Adult Consequences of Bully Victimization

Date01 October 2017
Published date01 October 2017
Subject MatterArticles
Adult Consequences of Bully
Victimization: Are Children
or Adolescents More
Vulnerable to the
Victimization Experience?
Chrystina Y. Hoffman
, Matthew D. Phillips
Leah E. Daigle
, and Michael G. Turner
Although evidence exists that bully victimizations are related to a range of negative outcomes later
in the life course, existing research has largely ignored the timing of the victimization experience.
Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997, the present study uses pro-
pensity score matching to investigate the adult consequences of victims experiencing repeated
bullying in childhood, adolescence, or both developmental periods. Individuals victimized as
children reported higher instances of arrests, convictions, violence, and substance use than child
nonvictims. The results point to the importance of implementing effective prevention programs
early in the life course.
bullying, victimization, life course, consequences
Bullying remains a significant public concern among school-aged youth. Identified as repetitive
abusive behaviors with specific intent to harm the victim and accompanied by an imbalance of
power between the offender and the victim (Olweus, 1993), prevalence rates of bully victimization
remain high and significantly vary across age (Juvonen, Graham, & Schuster, 2003; Nansel et al.,
2001). As evidence, research has documented that bullying is most prevalent in younger school-aged
children where data indicate that approximately 20%of students in elementary schools report being
victimized by a bully (Dake, Price, & Telljohann, 2003; Kochenderfer & Ladd, 1996; Ma, Stewin, &
Mah, 2001). Prevalence rates of bullying tend to decrease as students age into middle and high
Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology, Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, Georgia State University, Atlanta,
Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology, University of North Carolina–Charlotte, Charlotte, NC, USA
Corresponding Author:
Leah E. Daigle, Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology, Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, Georgia State
University, 1224 Urban Life, PO Box 4018, Atlanta, GA 30302, USA.
Youth Violence and JuvenileJustice
2017, Vol. 15(4) 441-464
ªThe Author(s) 2016
Reprints and permission:
DOI: 10.1177/1541204016650004
school, where national data have revealed that 8.5%of students were bullied ‘‘sometimes,’’ and
8.4%of students were bullied once a week or more (Nansel et al., 2001). A recent meta-analysis
conducted by Modecki, Minchin, Harbaugh, Guerra, and Runions (2014) estimates victimization
prevalence rates at 15.2%for cyberbullying and 36%for traditional bullying for adolescents (i.e.,
12- to 18-year-olds).
The growth in public interest surrounding bullying has ushered in an area of research focused on
the effects that victims of bullying experience later in the life course. Research has documented a
variety of adverse consequences related to individuals experiencing bully victimization. Victims of
bullies have reported experiencing maladjustment problems such as fighting and other violent
behaviors, substance use, poor relationships with peers, increased loneliness, low self-esteem or
self-concept, and lacking the ability to make friends (Juvonen et al., 2003; Kochenderfer & Ladd,
1996; Ma et al., 2001; Nansel et al., 2 001; Valdebenito, Ttofi, & Eisn er, 2015). Compared to
nonvictims, victims were also more likely to report higher levels of anxiety, report a significantly
greater number of physical health symptoms, engage in avoidance behaviors, suffer more significant
depressive symptoms, and report severe suicidal ideations (Dake et al., 2003; Juvonen et al., 2003;
Kochenderfer & Ladd, 1996; Lereya, Copeland, Costello, & Wolke, 2015; Ma et al., 2001; Nansel
et al., 2001; Sigurdson, Undheim, Wallander, Lydersen, & Sund, 2015; Takizawa, Maughan, &
Arseneault, 2014; Turner, Exum, Brame, & Holt, 2013).
Although important contributions to the knowledge base have been made regarding the conse-
quences of bullying, significant gaps in the research have yet to be addressed. One question that
research has yet to explore is whether the timing of the victimization experience (i.e., childhood vs.
adolescence) has similar (or different) consequences of individuals once they reach adulthood. That
is, are children who experience bully victimization more vulnerable to its effects and therefore
experience greater levels of adverse consequences in adulthood compared to adolescents who
experience bully victimization? Based on the tenets of life-course theory, it is expected that the
timing of bullying victimization will play a role in its consequences. According to this perspective,
events that occur during a person’s life have the capacity to influence the life trajectory (Elder,
1994)—these key turning points may be potent enough to shape a person’s life long term. Bullying
victimization occurring during early childhood may be more impactful, given that this develop-
mental time period is when children are developing key characteristics that will shape their future
interactions (Clausen, 1991).
As such, understanding whether the consequences of bullying victimization are different for
children and adolescents is important because if differences do occur, effective interventions focus-
ing on the physical, emotional, and psychological trauma associated with the experience can be more
efficiently targeted toward a particular age-group. Better understanding of the long-term conse-
quences of bullying can also aid in deciding when and how to intervene in response to bullying
victimization. The purpose of the present study is to fill this void in the literature and investigate
whether adult consequences of bully victimization differ depending on whether the individual was
victimized as a child or as an adolescent. To contextualize these questions, the literature investigat-
ing the effects of bully victimization is reviewed below.
Bully Victimization Over the Life Course
As identified above, prevalence rates of bully victimization vary over the life course. On the
individual level, it follows that there exists variability in one’s probability of experiencing a
bully victimization. Some individuals might be victimized in childhood, some individuals might
be victimized in adolescence, and some may be victimized over both developmental periods.
Since victimization may occur at different points during the life course, it is important to
442 Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice 15(4)

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