Victims of bullying appear to be much more likely to bring a weapon to school, according to a new study published today in the journal Pediatrics.
Authors of the study used Centers for Disease Control data from more than 15,000 students and found that 20 percent of high schoolers surveyed had been targets of bullying within the past year. Researchers also found that 4 percent of all students admitted bringing a weapon to school in the past month. CDC data on bullying in schools nationwide suggests that it is likely that more than 200,000 victims of bullying have carried a gun or knife to school in the last 30 days.
It was not bullying alone that drove students to violence, the authors said, but rather three factors that directly linked victims to a higher likelihood of bringing a weapon to school: involvement in physical fights at school, skipping school due to feeling unsafe, or previous physical threats or injuries by a classmate. If a victim of bullying suffered all three of these additional risk factors, the prevalence of weapon carrying skyrocketed from 5 percent to 46 percent.
“We wanted to look at those who are bringing weapons into what is supposed to be a safe space,” said study co-author Dr. Andrew Adesman, a professor of pediatrics at the Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine. He also serves as the chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York.
Adesman added that while past research has shown that kids who are bullied are more likely to carry weapons to school, this study went further, identifying what he called “a striking cascade of risk that is proportional to those three simple questions.”
Through this analysis, researchers have identified a group that may be at the highest risk of pursuing physical violence. Almost half of this group are carrying weapons to school — a number that is 35 times higher than that of high school students in general.
Amidst this high-risk group, there is a gender discrepancy as well. Though girls were more likely to report being victims of bullying, bullied boys were almost three times more likely to be the ones carrying weapons to class.
As for what can be done to address this problem, experts not involved with the research said a multi-pronged approach is needed.
“Schools are still much safer than the streets, and putting metal detectors in every hallway won’t solve the problem,” said Dr. Gene Beresin, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and founder of the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at Massachusetts General Hospital. “If we really want to help our youth be safer, we need to think of a comprehensive plan of combating bullying through electronic media, informing law enforcement and teachers about establishing universal consequences for bullying, and talking about the dangers of weapons on the streets.”
Beresin added that parents can do their part by talking about bullying at home with their kids. But he also said that this is a discussion that must be carried further into the community.
“Once we can open up about who is bullying, who is the victim, and how the bullying is being done, in a sense, it can start to change the culture. But it takes a village,” he said.