Students who are bullies in the first year of high school are also likely to become victims of the same behaviour they subject others to, new research has found.
The research, by Flinders University, studied 1,382 students across three cohorts and found that children who were bullies or victims of bullying in Secondary 3 were at higher risk of playing the same roles between Secondary 4 and their final school year.
The study’s lead author, Dr Grace Skrzypiec, from the Flinders University Student Wellbeing and Prevention of Violence (SWAPv) Research Centre, said that while some students continued to bully or fall victim to bullying, “new victims and bullies emerged during each year of high school”.
Secondary 3 bullies were found to have a 40.5% chance of being bullies at some point from Secondary 4 through to the second last year of high school, while students who had nothing to do with bullying only had a 10.7% chance.
Victims of bullying in Secondary 3 had a 56.3% chance of becoming victims from Secondary 4 through to the second last year of schooling, while those not involved in bullying then had only a 17.5% chance. The chance of Secondary 3 bullies becoming victims in high school was also high at 54.9%.
Students’ overall risk of being affected by high school bullying by Year 11 was 16% for being a bully, 36% for being a victim, and 13% for being a bully-victim: someone who has both bullied others and been bullied.
Boys were over three times more likely than girls to be a bully in at least one year from years 8 to 11, while girls and boys were equally likely to be victims.
“While these statistics help us to understand the complexities of being involved in bullying in high school as a victim, bully or both, it is critical that we avoid placing labels on students or singling out individuals,” Dr Skrzypiec says.
“Rather, this knowledge should be used to design programs that enhance positive, age-appropriate student relationships for all students throughout high school.”
Dr Skrzypiec said the study has important implications for bullying prevention.
“On the one hand, students’ frequent lapse into their primary school roles in high school suggests that schools should pay special attention to students’ former involvement in bullying during the transition from primary to high school,” she said.
“At the same time, the emergence of new bullies and victims each year suggests that anti-bullying interventions should continue throughout high school, adapted for each age group.”
Dr Skrzypiec said it is important to nuance types of bullying prevention interventions.
“It’s important to take into account the intensity and severity of the bullying, and the understanding that older students are more likely to seek the support of peers rather than teachers or parents,” she said.