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Wang, J., Iannotti, R.J., & Nansel, T.R. (2009).School bullying among US adolescents: Physical, verbal, relational, and cyber. Journal of Adolescent Health, 45, 368-375.

School bullying has been identified as a problematic behavior among adolescents, affecting school achievement, prosocial skills, and psychological well-being for both victims and perpetrators. Bullying is usually defined as a specific form of aggression, which is intentional, repeated, and involves a disparity of power between the victim and perpetrators. Previous studies have found that boys have a higher prevalence of bullying perpetration than girls and bullying behavior tends to peak in middle school and then decrease. In a nationally-representative sample of adolescents in the United States, Nansel and colleagues reported that the prevalence of frequent involvement in school bullying in the past 2 months was 29.9%, which included 13.0% as bullies, 10.6% as victims, and 6.3% as both. In the U.S. sample, compared to Caucasian adolescents, Hispanic adolescents were involved in more frequent bullying perpetration, while African-American adolescents were less likely to be bullied. Adolescent bullying may take many forms, such as physical, verbal, and relational or social. Physical bullying and verbal bullying are considered to be direct, while relational bullying refers to an indirect form of bullying, such as social exclusion and spreading rumors. Boys are more involved in direct bullying, while girls are more involved in indirect bullying. Cyber bullying is emerging as a new form of bullying. Cyber bulling can be defined as a form of aggression that occurs through personal computers or cell phones. Kowalski and Limber reported that among their sample of middle school students in the United States, 22% reported involvement in cyber bullying, including 4% as bullies, 11% as victims, and 7% as both. In a study of Canadian adolescents in 7th grade, boys were more likely to be cyber bullies than girls. Previous studies showed that positive parental practices, such as parental warmth or support, could protect adolescents from involvement in bullying perpetration and victimization.

Method: Self-report data on bullying were collected from 7,508 adolescents in the 2005/2006 Health Behavior in School-aged Children (HBSC) study in the United States. The items assessing physical, verbal, and relational bullying were based on the Olweus Bully/Victim Questionnaire. For each item, two parallel questions asked how often participants had either bullied others or been bullied in the past 2 months at school. Two new items were added using the same format to measure cyber bully/victim. Physical bullying was measured by one item - hitting, kicking, pushing, shoving around, or locking indoors. Verbal bullying was measured by three items - calling mean names, making fun of, or teasing in a hurtful way; calling mean names about race; and calling mean names about religion. Relational bullying was measured by two items - socially excluding others; and spreading rumors. Cyber bullying was measured by two items - “bullying using a computer or email messages or pictures”; and “bullying using a cell phone”. Response options were “none”, “only once or twice”, “2 or 3 times a month”, “about once a week”, and “several times a week”. Parental support was measured by four items from the Parental Bonding Instrument, which were included in the HBSC survey. The students were asked if their parent or guardian 1) helps them as much as they needed; 2) is loving; 3) understands their problems and worries; and 4) makes them feel better when they were upset. Response options were “almost never”, “sometimes”, and “almost always’. Two items asked about how many male or female friends the student had. Response options ranged from “0” to “3 or more”.

Results: At the item level, the two most common types of bullying behaviors were calling someone mean names and social isolation. The two most common types of victimization were being called mean names and having rumors spread about them. 13.3% reported that they had bullied others at least once in the last 2 months physically, 37.4% verbally, 27.2% socially, and 8.3% electronically. The prevalence rates of victimization were 12.8% for physical, 36.5% for verbal, 41.0% for relational, and 9.8% for cyber forms. Compared to girls, boys were likely to be more involved in physical and verbal forms. For cyber bullying, boys were more likely to be bullies, whereas girls were more likely to be victims. Compared to 6th graders, 9th/ 10th graders were less involved in bullying for all types of bullying. Compared to Caucasian adolescents, African-American adolescents were more involved in bullying perpetration but less involved in victimization. Hispanic adolescents were more likely to be physical bullies or cyber bully-victims. Adolescents from more affluent families were less likely to be physical victims but more likely to be cyber victims. Higher parental support was negatively associated with involvement in bullying across all four forms. Number of friends was related to involvement in all three traditional forms but was not related to cyber bullying. For physical, verbal, and relational bullying, adolescents with more friends were more likely to be bullies but less likely to be victims.

Discussion: The negative relations between having more friends and victimization in physical, verbal, and relational forms supports the “friendship protection hypothesis” suggesting that friendship protects adolescents from being selected as targets of bullies. The positive relation between having more friends and bullying reflects a need among adolescents to establish social status, especially during transition into a new group, and may explain the peaking of prevalence rates of bullying in all four forms during 7th grade or 8th grade, a period of transition to middle school. Results indicate that cyber bullying has a distinct nature from traditional bullying.