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Juvonen, J., Graham, S., & Schuster, M.A. (2003). Bullying among young adolescents: The strong, the weak, and the troubled. Pediatrics, 112, 1231-1237.

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Being involved with bullying has been recognized as a health problem for school children because of its association with a range of adjustment problems, including poor mental health and violent behavior. Large studies suggest that 20% to 30% of students are frequently involved in bullying as perpetrators and/or victims. Bullying includes a range of behaviors that result in an imbalance of power between the aggressor and the victim. Such behaviors include not only physical aggression but also verbal harassment and public humiliation. Studies that rely solely on self-report suggest that bullies, victims, and bully-victims all share psychosocial adjustment difficulties such as depression and psychosomatic problems. Other studies have found that bullies are more likely to manifest defiant behavior, negative attitudes toward school, and use drugs. Victims, in turn, report feeling more insecure and lonely than bullies.

Method: Participants were 6th-grade students in 11 public middle schools in the greater in Los Angeles. All the schools were in low-income communities, and three of the schools consisted primarily of black students, three were mostly Latino, and five had no majority group. The final sample consisted of 1985 students. The racial/ethnic distribution was 45% Latino,
26% black, 10% white, 11% Asian, and 8% other. Youth involved in bullying were classified by using peer nominations whereby students listed up to 4 classmates from a class roster who fit descriptions for bullying (“starts fights and pushes other kids around,” “puts down and makes fun of others,” and “spreads nasty rumors about others”) and victimization (“gets pushed around,” “is put down or made fun of,” and “about whom nasty rumors are spread”). Three indicators of self-reported psychological distress were utilized. Depression was measured with the 10-item Children’s Depression Inventory Short Form. For each of the 10 items, respondents were asked to choose the option that best described how they had been feeling during the past 2 weeks. Social anxiety was assessed with a combination of two subscales from the Social Anxiety Scale for Adolescents measuring fear of negative evaluation and social avoidance. Each of the 12 items was rated on a 5-point scale from “not at all” to “all the time.” Lastly, a 16-item loneliness measure had a 5-point scale from “not true at all” to “always true.” Peer nominations were used to assess social adaptation within the peer group. Respondents nominated up to 4 classmates they considered the “coolest” kids in their class (indicating social status or rank) and up to 4 they did not like to hang out with (indicating avoidance). Teachers with daily classroom contact rated students on behavior by using 11 interpersonal competence items with a 7-point scale with item-specific anchors. These items yielded 3 subscales with 3 items each: internalizing problems (sad, worries, cries a lot); conduct problems (starts fights, argues, and gets in trouble); and popularity (popular with boys, popular with girls, and have lots of friends).Teachers also rated school engagement with 6 items from the Teacher Report of Engagement Questionnaire.

Results: Twenty-two percent of the sample was classified as involved in bullying as perpetrators (7%), victims (9%), or both (6%). Boys were twice as likely as girls to be classified as bullies, three times as likely to be classified as bully-victims, and almost twice as likely to be classified as victims. Black and other youth were most likely and Asian least likely to be classified as bullies. Other and white were more likely and Latino least likely to be classified as victims. Black youth were most likely to be classified as bully-victims. Bullies reported the lowest and victims reported the highest levels of depression, social anxiety, and loneliness. Bully-victims generally fell in between, with elevated levels of depression and loneliness but average levels of social anxiety. Bullies were regarded as the highest and victims the lowest in social status. However, classmates avoided both bullies and victims and especially bully-victims more than they avoided other classmates. Teachers rated victims as displaying more internalizing problems (eg, sadness or anxiety) than bullies or bully-victims. Teachers ranked bully-victims as manifesting by far the most conduct problems. All three groups of students involved with bullying, especially bully-victims, were rated as more disengaged in school than their classmates.

Discussion: Among youth involved in bullying in a community sample of ethnically diverse students, we found that bullies manifest the fewest number of adjustment problems. Bullies are psychologically stronger than classmates not involved in bullying. Bully-victims are by far the most socially ostracized by their peers, most likely to display conduct problems, and least engaged in school, and they also report elevated levels of depression and loneliness. The superior mental health of bullies can in part be understood in light of the social prestige that they enjoy among their classmates. Developmental research shows that in early adolescence, social status is one of the strongest predictors of positive self-views and psychological well-being.