Adults who were bullied throughout childhood and their teens are much more likely to be convicted of crimes and to go to prison than those who didn't suffer repeated bullying, a new study finds.
"Previous research has examined bullying during specific time periods, whereas this study is the first to look at individuals' reports of bullying that lasted throughout their childhood and teen years, and the legal consequences they faced in late adolescence and as adults," study author Michael Turner said in a news release from the American Psychological Association (APA).
The study included more than 7 300 people who were aged 12 to 16 at the end of 1996 and who were followed-up for 14 years. Of that group, 74% were not bullied. However, 15% were bullied repeatedly before age 12, while 6% were bullied repeatedly after age 12, and 5% were bullied repeatedly both before and after that age.
Nearly 14% of those who suffered bullying throughout childhood and their teens ended up in prison as adults, compared with 6% of those who weren't bullied, 9% of those who were bullied during childhood and 7% of those who were bullied during their teens, the investigators found.
Turner also found that more than 20% of those who were bullied throughout childhood and their teens were convicted of crimes, compared with 11% of those who weren't bullied, 16% of childhood victims and 13% of teen victims.
White adults who were bullied during childhood were much more likely to end up in prison than non-white childhood victims, according to the study scheduled for presentation Thursday at the APA's annual meeting in Honolulu.
Women more affected
The study also found that women who were bullied throughout childhood and their teens were much more likely to use alcohol or drugs, and to be arrested and convicted, than men who were bullied throughout childhood and their teens.
Because this study was presented at a medical meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
"This study highlights the important role that health care professionals can play early in a child's life when bullying is not adequately addressed by teachers, parents or guardians," said Turner, who is with the department of criminal justice and criminology at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte.
"With appropriate questions during routine medical checkups, they can be critical first points of contact for childhood victims," he said. "Programmes that help children deal with the adverse impacts of repeated bullying could make the difference in whether they end up in the adult legal system."
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has more about bullying.