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Bullying is a relationship problem, new study confirms


Students who bully tend to have difficulties with other relationships as well, a new study from Queen’s and York University shows.

Early targeting of the young people’s relationships, such as those with their friends and parents, may help in prevention of persistent bullying problems later on, says Psychology professor Wendy Craig, co-author of the report. The findings are published today in the March/April 2008 issue of the journal Child Development.

The researchers looked at 871 students (466 girls and 405 boys) from ages 10 to 18, over a period of seven years. The children were asked about their involvement in bullying or victimizing behavior, their relationships, and other positive and negative behaviors.

Among key findings:

• 9.9 per cent of the students said they engaged in consistently high levels of bullying from elementary through high school.
• 13.4 per cent said they bullied at relatively high levels in elementary school but dropped to almost no bullying by the end of high school.
• 35.1 percent of the children said they bullied peers at moderate levels.
• 41.6 percent almost never reported bullying across the adolescent years.

The study also found that children who bullied tend to be aggressive and lacking in a moral compass and that they experience a great deal of conflict in their relationships with their parents. Their relationships with friends are also marked by considerable conflict, and they tend to associate with others who bully.

Interventions must be both developmental – focusing on the child’s behaviors, social cognitions and social problem-solving skills – and contextual, focusing on their strained relationships with parents and risky relationships with peers, explains Dr. Craig. “By providing intensive and ongoing support starting in the elementary school years to this small, high-risk group, it may be possible to promote healthy relationships and prevent their ‘career path’ of bullying that leads to numerous criminal and relationship problems in adolescence and adulthood,” she says.

The authors suggest that future research should examine the links between bullying and other forms of relationship aggression such as dating aggression and sexual harassment.

On the research team from York University are: professors Debra Pepler (lead author) and Jennifer Connolly, and statistician Depeng Jiang.

Drs. Craig and Pepler are co-directors of PREVNET (Promoting Relationships and Eliminating Violence Network): a national network to address problems of childhood bullying. A trans-disciplinary initiative, PREVNET brings together researchers, non-governmental organizations, and governments as partners to reduce aggression and promote healthy relationships of Canadian children and youth.


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