Teen bullying victims who have been threatened or have been in a fight are more likely to bring a weapon to school than other victims and nonvictims, according to a new study.
Researchers estimate more than 200,000 victims had done so in the past 30 days.
“… the alarming percentage of students who carry weapons on school property signals that school campuses are still not the optimal, safe learning environments that we want for our youth,” researchers said in the study “Weapon Carrying Among Victims of Bullying” (Pham TB, et al. Pediatrics. Nov. 27, 2017, https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2017-0353).
Teens who have been bullied can suffer physical and mental health issues and are more likely to display violent behaviors, according to the study.
Researchers set out to identify which bullying victims were more likely to carry weapons by looking at three potential risk factors — fighting, being threatened or injured with a weapon at school, and skipping school due to feeling unsafe.
Upon analyzing data on more than 15,000 high school students from the 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, they found 20% of students had been bullied in the past year and 4.1% had carried a weapon in the past month. The rate of students carrying a weapon was nearly the same for nonvictims and victims without additional risk factors at 2.5% and 2.8%, respectively.
For students with one risk factor, weapon carrying ranged from 5.3% to 11.9%, with the highest being those who were threatened or injured at school. Rates of weapon carrying ranged from 9.7% to 25.9% for students with two risk factors and peaked at 46.4% for those with all three risk factors.
“Students whose sense of safety had been violated or threatened in successively more ways had a greater propensity to carry weapons to school, with each additional risk factor further compounding this risk,” authors wrote.
They estimated victims were twice as likely to carry weapons to school than nonvictims and that 200,000 had done so in the month before the survey. Authors noted the study did not determine who had been both a victim and a bully.
“… these results do not reveal whether weapons were brought to school for defensive, self-protection purposes or for offensive purposes relating to aggression, intimidation, or retribution,” they wrote.
Parents and teachers should be alert for both male and female students who avoid school or have unexplained injuries, according to the study. Pediatricians should screen for the three risk factors noted in the research and connect bullied teens with the proper resources.
Authors of a related commentary agreed that careful screening and referral are needed.
“By enhancing the sense of safety among bullied youth,” they wrote, “they might no longer feel the need to engage in weapon-carrying at school.”