Challenging Conventions of Bullying Thresholds: Exploring Differences between Low and High Levels of Bully-Only, Victim-Only, and Bully-Victim Rolesedit
Using a commonly accepted threshold of 2 to 3 times per month as a marker of bullying-involvement from noninvolvement, approximately 30% of U.S. students report being a bully, victim, or both. Although variation in the frequency of involvement exists, infrequent engagement (less than 2 to 3 times a month) is generally considered noninvolved. However, the question remains: Do these differences have implications for behavioral health patterns, including substance use, depression and school connectedness? The present study used a district-wide random cluster sample of 66 middle and high schools in a mid-size city. The study population consisted of 3,221 middle school (53.4%) and high school (45.6%) students, with 48.7% females, 44.6 males, and 6.7% youth identifying with another gender category. These youth were racially diverse, with the modal category being Black (36.0%). Based on student survey response, we report, (a) the frequency and intensity of bullying behaviors, (b) common patterns of involvement, and (c) demographic and individual-level risk factors associated with these patterns. Analyses resulted in nine bully types, with substantial differences in bullying-involvement intensity based on gender, race, school connectedness, and mental health. Perhaps most striking, the majority of youth (70.9%) were involved in some level of bullying perpetration, victimization, or both, when accounting for the accumulation of low frequency involvement (e.g., once, twice, or a few times) across multiple bullying behaviors. Implications for adolescent development and prevention are described.