OBJECTIVE. It has been shown that bullying victimization is associated with behavior and school adjustment problems, but it remains unclear whether the experience of bullying uniquely contributes to those problems after taking into account preexisting adjustment problems.
METHODS. We examined bullying in the Environmental Risk Study, a nationally representative 1994–1995 birth cohort of 2232 children. We identified children who experienced bullying between the ages of 5 and 7 years either as pure victims or bully/victims. We collected reports from mothers and teachers about children’s behavior problems and school adjustment when they were 5 years old and again when they were age 7.
RESULTS. Compared with control children, pure victims showed more internalizing problems and unhappiness at school when they were 5 and 7 years. Girls who were pure victims also showed more externalizing problems than controls. Compared with controls and pure victims, bully/victims showed more internalizing problems, more externalizing problems, and fewer prosocial behaviors when they were 5 and 7 years. They also were less happy at school compared with control children at 7 years of age. Pure victims and bully/victims showed more behavior and school adjustment problems at 7 years of age, even after controlling for preexisting adjustment problems at 5 years of age.
CONCLUSIONS. Being the victim of a bully during the first years of schooling contributes to maladjustment in young children. Prevention and intervention programs aimed at reducing mental health problems during childhood should target bullying as an important risk factor.