Most people understand bullying to be repeated harassment, either physical or verbal, and in many minds there is a clear line dividing bullies and victims. Yet, bully-victims, those who are victims and bully others in turn, also exist. A new study conducted by a team of Dutch researchers has found that any involvement in bullying, whether that be as a victim, a bully, or a bully-victim, is related to carrying weapons. “In itself, this finding is already cause for intervention because adolescents that carry weapons are more likely to get into fights, be hospitalized, be injured, or injure others than their peers who do not carry weapons,” wrote the authors in their study appearing online in JAMA Pediatric.

The Link Between Bullying and Weapons

Worldwide, researchers disagree as to how prevalent bullying is, with estimates ranging from 15 percent to half of all teens involved in bullying, either as a victim, a bully, or both. It has been suggested that perpetrators of high school homicides are more likely to have been victims of bullying than their peers — case in point, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold of the Columbine massacre. Meanwhile, the possibility, if not the occurrence, of violence grows. In one recent small-scale study, one in six adolescents (of 13,710 teens total) reported bringing a weapon to school in the past 30 days. Worse, one driving factor behind this wave of weapon-carrying teens appears to be an involvement in bullying.

For this reason, the team of researchers behind the current study performed a detailed analysis of a number of reviews of bullying to understand whether victims, bullies, or bully-victims were more likely to carry weapons than their peers who were not involved in bullying. Importantly, the team addressed issues of publication bias, methodology, and country-specific results (access to weapons, for instance, varies by country) as part of their analysis.

What studies did they include?

The authors searched through all the articles, reports, dissertations, letters, and book chapters they could find on the subject, whether they be written in English, Spanish, German, French, Italian, Portuguese, Dutch, and Chinese. From the many, they whittled their pile down by first excluding any study with participants older than 21. Next, the authors excluded studies that did not explicitly focus on bullying behaviors. From the remaining pile, the authors selected studies that either compared weapon carrying among a group of adolescents involved in bullying with weapon carrying in an uninvolved group of adolescents, or made an association between a continuous measure of bullying behavior and a continuous measure of weapon carrying. Finally, the authors weeded out any study concerned with populations not considered generally healthy, such as research following incarcerated teens or teens with psychopathologic conditions.

Having winnowed down to 25 studies, the researchers divided the total into three groups, with some overlap. Of the total research reports, 22 were deemed eligible as “victim studies”; these concerned a total of 257,179 youths, ranging in age from 11 to 21 years. A second group of 15 studies were deemed eligible as “bully studies," and they concerned a total of 236,145 youths within the same age range. A final eight were deemed eligible as “bully-victim studies,” and concerned a total of 199,563 youths once again in the same age range. Once this work was done, the researchers set about analyzing the findings contained within all the reports. What did they discover?

“We found that victims, bullies, and bully-victims were more likely to carry weapons than their uninvolved peers,” concluded the authors. “In addition to this, bully-victims are not only more likely to carry a weapon than victims, a study by Srabstein and Piazza points out that bully-victims are also more likely to actually report using a weapon than victims.” Perhaps the results are hardly surprising. Still, it helps to verify that bullying perpetuates a cycle of violence that too many teens simply cannot break.

Source: van Geel M, Vedder P, Tanilon J. Bullying and Weapon Carrying A Meta-analysis. JAMA Pediatric. 2014.