Associations between frequency of bullying involvement and adjustment in adolescence

Acad Pediatr. May-Jun 2013;13(3):214-21. doi: 10.1016/j.acap.2013.02.004. Epub 2013 Feb 14.


Objective: To examine whether infrequent bullying perpetration and victimization (once or twice a month) are associated with elevated levels of internalizing and externalizing problems and to assess evidence for a minimum frequency threshold for bullying involvement.

Methods: The analytic sample included 128,681 6th, 9th, and 12th graders who completed the 2010 Minnesota Student Survey. Logistic regression and general linear models examined the association between bullying frequency and adjustment correlates including emotional distress, self-harm, physical fighting, and substance use while controlling for demographic characteristics. Gender and grade were included as moderators.

Results: Infrequent bullying perpetration and victimization were associated with increased levels of all adjustment problems relative to those who did not engage in bullying in the past 30 days. Grade moderated many of these findings, with perpetration frequency being more strongly related to substance use, self-harm, and suicidal ideation for 6th graders than 12th graders, whereas victimization frequency was associated with self-harm more strongly for 12th graders than 6th graders. Evidence for minimum thresholds for bullying involvement across all outcomes, grades, and bullying roles was inconsistent.

Conclusions: Infrequent bullying involvement may pose risks to adolescent adjustment; thus, clinicians and school personnel should address even isolated instances of bullying behavior. Researchers should reexamine the use of cut points in bullying research in order to more fully understand the nature of bullying in adolescence. These data indicate the need for prevention and intervention programs that target diverse internalizing and externalizing problems for bullies and victims, regardless of bullying frequency.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Adolescent
  • Bullying / psychology*
  • Crime Victims / psychology
  • Crime Victims / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Male
  • Minnesota / epidemiology
  • Self-Injurious Behavior / epidemiology*
  • Self-Injurious Behavior / psychology
  • Social Adjustment*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology
  • Suicidal Ideation
  • Suicide, Attempted / statistics & numerical data
  • Surveys and Questionnaires