Exploring the Relationship Between Youth and Bullying: A Secondary Analysis of the 2015 YRBS

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 2:30 PM

Sarah Kelly, PhD, RN
School of Nursing, Montclair State University, Montclair, NJ, USA
Kaycie Zhen, SN
School of Nursing, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, USA


In 2016, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine published a report that identified bullying as a public health issue. Bullying is defined by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as “any unwanted aggressive behavior(s) by another youth or group of youths, who are not siblings or current dating partners, involving an observed or perceived power imbalance.” Bullying is a unique environmental risk factor that contributes to the development of psychiatric illness independent of genetic risk factors (Silberg et al., 2016). In 2016 it was reported that more 20% of students in the US were bullied (CDC, 2016). However, in 2010, only 36% of youth bullied, reported being bullied (CDC). Being bullied has been associated with various negative outcomes; these include negative social relationships and mental health and the presence of health risk behaviors. Health risk behaviors include violence, substance abuse, suicidal behavior, and decreased physical activity. Youth who reported being bullied had increased risks of having poorer education and poor general health.

Silberg et. al (2016) reported increased rates of ADHD, social anxiety, separation anxiety, and young adult suicidality in bullied youth. As evident from the literature, being bullied has serious health implications for youth. An analysis of the 2011 YRBS found associations between bullying and health risk behaviors, including increased rates of violence, substance abuse, risky sexual behavior, and decreased rates of physical activity (Hertz et. al, 2015). Currently, no analyses focusing on bullying have been reported based on the latest YRBS in 2015. This study fulfills the gap in the literature by conducting a secondary analysis on data from the 2015 YRBS. Therefore, the purpose of this study is to explore youths’ experiences with bullying behaviors.


A secondary analysis of data was completed using the 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS). The YRBS is a national survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and given to those in grades 9-12. It focuses on 6 main areas of interest: 1) behaviors that contribute to unintentional injuries and violence; 2) sexual behaviors that contribute to HIV infection, other STDs, and unintended pregnancy; 3) tobacco use; 4) alcohol and other drug use; 5) unhealthy dietary behaviors; and 6) physical inactivity. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2013). The 2015 YRBS had a sample size of 15, 358 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016).

Six questions from the YRBS were selected to represent the constructs under investigation: bullying behavior, suicidal behavior, and illegal substance use. The questions were: 1) During the past 12 months, have you ever been bullied on school property?, 2) During the past 12 months have you ever been electronically bullied?, 3) During the past 12 months have you considered suicide?, 4) During the past 12 months how many times did you attempt suicide?, 5) During the past 30 days have you had at least 1 alcoholic drink?, and 6) During the past 30 days have you used marijuana?


Over 2500 (20%) high school students were bullied and 15% (n = 2268) were victims of cyber bullying. Students were also victims of both, being bullied at school and cyber bullying. Female high school students reported a higher frequency of cyber bullying (n = 1531) when compared to male students (n = 717). Further, of the 2,935 students that reported being bullied at school, 39% (n = 1148) considered suicide after their experience. Almost 50% of the students who considered suicide, attempted suicide (n =533, 46%) at least once. There was a statistical difference between being cyber bullied and gender x2 (1, n = 15,624) = 342.56 , p < .001. Correlational analysis indicated significant associations among bullying at school, cyber bullying, alcohol use, marijuana use, and suicidal ideology.


The results of the study support previous research. Bullying is under reported in the US and having this information further identifies the effects that this behavior has on youth and their development, thus, providing for a foundation on which to develop practical interventions.