Why Some Kids Are Bullied From the Start

Study finds early aggression, harsh parenting, economic status combine to make a victim

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MONDAY, Oct. 13, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- Up to one in 10 children fall into ongoing patterns of abuse and victimization by peers starting almost as soon as they are old enough to begin socializing with others, a new study suggests.

The report, published in the October issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry, found that aggressive infants, and those from low-income families or exposed to harsh parenting styles, were more likely to be consistently victimized.

"The consequences associated with high and chronic victimization are manifold and include depression, loneliness, low self-esteem, physical health problems, social withdrawal, alcohol and/or drug use, school absence and avoidance, decrease in school performance, self-harm and suicidal ideation [thoughts and behaviors]," wrote the researchers, a team from the University of Alabama.

The abuse from school-age peers could be in the form of physical attacks, harsh words and social aggression, according to background information in the article.

The researchers studied 1,970 children -- about half boys -- born in Montreal between October 1997 and July 1998. The team followed them for more than seven years, receiving information from the children's mothers about victimization, family adversity, parenting styles, physical aggression, hyperactivity, and internalizing symptoms. During the final follow-up, at age 7, the children and their teachers reported on victimization by classmates.

The study found that children who were aggressive at 17 months of age were more likely to become victims in preschool than their less aggressive peers. Children exposed to harsh parenting were more likely to be chronic victims, as were those from poorer families.

"These results suggest that early preventive interventions should target both child- and parent-level risks, and focus on alternatives to harsh and aggressive interactions," the author wrote.

More information

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources has more about stopping bullying.

SOURCE: JAMA/Archives journals, news release, Oct. 6, 2008

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