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Family Violence May Lead To Bullying

April 23, 2011

Multiple studies have shown an association between substance abuse, poor academic achievement, mental health issues, and bullying. Now, a study suggests that family violence is also associated with bullying.

Schoolyard bullies, and their victims, are more likely than not to live with violence at home, according to the new report released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Violent family encounters were most common in youth who identified as someone who has both bullied and had been the victim of bullying, according to the report.

To assess this association, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and CDC analyzed data from the 2009 Massachusetts Youth Health Survey.

The CDC report sums up the results of that analysis, which showed significant differences in risk factors for persons in three distinct bullying categories — bullies, victims, and bully-victims — compared with persons reporting neither being bullies nor victims.

The adjusted odds ratios (AORs) for middle school students for being physically hurt by a family member were 2.9 for victims, 4.4 for bullies, and 5.0 for bully-victims. For those witnessing violence in the family, the AORs were 2.6 for victims, 2.9 for bullies, and 3.9 for bully-victims, after adjusting for differences by age group, sex, and ethnicity.

For high school students, the AORS for being physically hurt by a family member were 2.8 for victims, 3.8 for bullies, and 5.4 for bully-victims, and for witnessing violence in the family were 2.3, 2.7, and 6.8, respectively.

Massachusetts has been at the heart of the bullying debate since the widely reported suicides of 15-year-old Phoebe Prince of South Hadley last year and 11-year-old Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover of Springfield in 2009.

The state passed anti-bullying laws in May 2010 which prohibits bullying in school and on the Internet. The state also mandates school-developed bullying prevention and intervention plans.

The Massachusetts Youth Health Survey is an anonymous survey conducted biennially. The survey has two stages.

In the first stage, schools are randomly selected to participate. In the second stage, classes are randomly selected for participation, and all students in those classes are invited to participate.

The 2009 survey was conducted during January to June and completed during a single class period in 138 public middle and high schools. The sample sizes of the survey were 2,859 students from middle schools and 2,948 students from high schools.

Response rates among students were 90.6 percent for middle schools and 87.2 percent for high schools. Cooperation rates were 61.6 percent for middle schools and 76.5 percent for high schools. A weight was applied to each survey record to adjust for school non-response, student non-response, and distribution of students by grade, sex, and race/ethnicity.

Students were asked two questions pertaining to bullying.

Responses to the questions were combined to create four exclusive categories Bullies, victims of bullying, bully-victims, and neither of the two. Students with missing responses to the questions were excluded from the analysis — 55 middle school students and 39 high school students.

Percentages of bullies, victims, bully-victims, and neither were calculated for each of several risk factors, including violence at home.

The survey found that exposure to violent family encounters was more common among bully-victims than among bullies, and more common among bullies than victims of bullying. Among middle school students, 23.2 percent of bully-victims reported being physically hurt by a family member and 22.8 percent reported witnessing violence in the home, compared with 19.4 percent and 17.4 percent, respectively, among bullies and 13.6 percent and 14.8 percent, respectively, among victims of bullying. Comparisons were similar for high school students.

The 2009 Massachusetts Youth Health Survey and CDC analysis was published online in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report for April 22.

“A comprehensive approach that encompasses school officials, students and their families is needed to prevent bullying among middle school and high school students,” CDC researchers told Reuters.

The report, which CDC said was the first state-specific analysis of risk factors and bullying, also noted that significant numbers of bullies and bully-victims said they had recently used alcohol or drugs.

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