U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration

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Bullying is defined as aggressive behavior that is intentional, repeated over time, and involves an imbalance of power or strength. Bullying may damage children’s self-esteem, cause higher rates of loneliness and depression, and affect academic success. Bullying can also have physical effects, such as an increase in headaches, sleeping problems, and stomach ailments. Children who engage in bullying may be more likely to get into physical altercations, use drugs and alcohol, and get into trouble with the law. Even children who witness bullying can be negatively affected.1 In 2007, the parents of 12.9 percent of children aged 6–17 years reported that their child “sometimes” bullied or was cruel to others in the past month, while the parents of 2.3 percent of children reported that their child “usually or always” bullied or was cruel to others.

The likelihood of a child engaging in bullying or cruelty to others varied by a number of factors. Non-Hispanic Black children were most likely to bully others sometimes (18.1 percent) and usually or always (4.6 percent) in the past month. Non-Hispanic White children were the least likely to sometimes (10.8 percent) and usually or always (1.5 percent) bully others, as reported by their parents. Bullying also varied by poverty level, with parent-reported bullying decreasing with increased income. It also varied by family structure, with children living with both of their parents being least likely to engage in bullying (data not shown).

Violence, such as bullying, can prevent children from attending school, for fear of their safety. In 2009, 5.0 percent of high school students reported that they did not go to school on at least on day during the past month because they felt unsafe at school or on their way to or from school. Hispanic students were more than twice as likely to miss school because of safety concerns as non-Hispanic White children (8.1 percent versus 3.5 percent).


1 Health Resources and Services Administration, Maternal and Child Health Bureau. Stop bullying now—all about bullying. Available online: http://www.stopbullyingnow.hrsa.gov/adults/why-should-adults-care.aspx; accessed February 2010.

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