Teen bullies at risk of adult anti-social behaviour

Teen bullies at risk of adult anti-social behaviour

Media release — 30 June 2012

A long-term Australian study has found a significant link between young teenage bullies and a tendency towards criminal violence and other anti-social behaviour later in life, according to new research released today by the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

Australian Institute of Family Studies Research Fellow, Ms Suzanne Vassallo, said the study involving 800 males and females showed a significant relationship between bullying at age 13-14 years and later criminal violence at age 19-20.

"Around 20 per cent of participants reported having bullied or threatened others at age 13-14, with 27 per cent of males and 14 per cent of girls involved in bullying,” she said.

"Bullying by teenagers at age 13-14 was linked with a two-fold increase in the odds that these individuals would come into contact with the police or courts by the time they were aged 19-20.

"The findings provide further evidence that bullying in adolescence may be a marker of risk for a continuing pattern of anti-social behaviour, particularly for young men which can see them move on from bullying to other anti-social acts such as physical assault, theft, selling illegal drugs, or damaging property.

"This does not mean that every schoolyard bully is destined to become a criminal. However, if left unchecked bullying by early teens can be a powerful marker for a tendency towards anti-social behaviour later on, particularly for males.

"Young men scored higher on anti-social behaviour ratings at both 19-20 and 23-24 and were more likely to engage in criminal violence than young women. For example, 13 per cent of males at 19- 20 had come into contact with the police or courts, compared to only five per cent of females.

"The research suggests that rather than being a harmless activity, bullying is part of a syndrome of norm-breaking behaviours that may have serious and long-lasting effects for perpetrators as well as victims.

"It also under-scores the importance of early intervention initiatives targeting bullying before this anti-social behaviour becomes more entrenched.

Ms Vassallo said the research was drawn from the Australian Temperament Project, a longitudinal study following the psychosocial development of more than 1600 Victorian-born young people living throughout metropolitan, rural and regional areas.

"There has been a lot of research on the negative impacts of bullying on young people but less on the consequences for the people who actually do the bullying and we find that it can have negative consequences for them,” she said.

"When we followed up on the people who at 13-14 said that they were bullies or had threatened others, by the time they were 19-20 and 23-24 they were involved in higher rates of anti-social behaviour and criminal violence, bringing them into contact with police and the courts.

"This is not a good path for these teenagers to head down and it can have damaging consequences not only for them, but also for their families and their wider communities, highlighting the importance of continual efforts to target bullying."

The research will be presented at the 12th Australian Institute of Family Studies’ conference Family Transitions and Trajectories being held at the Melbourne Convention Centre from July 25-27.

Research presentation: Bullying in early adolescence and its association with anti-social behaviour, criminality and violence 6 and 10 years later by AIFS researchers Ms Jennifer Renda, Ms Suzanne Vassallo, and Dr Ben Edwards
View presentation slides (PDF 1.03 MB) | presentation slides (PPT 1.53 MB)

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