—Forum on Child and Family Statistics
faces of children
Home  |  About the Forum  |  Publications  |  Help

America's Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2017

Special Feature: Peer Victimization in the 3rd Grade

a ground of smiling students standing in front of their teacher

Elementary school students are sometimes treated negatively by their peers, and this peer victimization can be related to a variety of student outcomes. This special feature explores three aspects of peer victimization using teacher- and student-reported data from the 3rd-grade collection of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 2010–11. first, it describes the percentage of students who frequently victimized their peers, according to teacher reports. Next, it explores whether students' perpetration status was related to teacher ratings of their social and emotional behaviors. finally, it presents information on the percentage of perpetrators who reported that they were frequently victimized by their peers.

Although schools should be safe havens for learning, students sometimes experience mistreatment from their peers, such as being teased, lied about, pushed or hit, or intentionally excluded from activities. Research indicates that such incidents, known as peer victimization, can have lasting effects on students. In addition to experiencing loneliness, depression, and adjustment difficulties,158, 159, 160, 161, 162 victimized children are more prone to truancy,163 poor academic performance,164, 165 dropping out of school,166, 164 and violent behaviors.167 A recent report from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2016, found that 21 percent of children ages 12–18 reported being victimized by peers at school in 2015.168 About 13 percent of children ages 12–18 reported that they were made fun of, called names, or insulted; 12 percent reported being the subject of rumors; 5 percent reported that they were pushed, shoved, tripped, or spit on; and 5 percent reported that they were excluded from activities on purpose.

Bullying is defined by the U.S. Department of Education and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as any unwanted aggressive behavior(s) by another youth or group of youths who are not siblings or current dating partners that involves an observed or perceived power imbalance and is repeated multiple times or is highly likely to be repeated. According to the nationally representative Health Behavior in School-Aged Children 2005 Survey, about 13 percent of students in Grades 6–10 reported that they had physically bullied others at least once in the last 2 months (e.g., hitting, kicking, pushing), 37 percent had bullied others verbally (e.g., calling other students mean names, making fun of or teasing other students in a hurtful way), and 27 percent had bullied others socially (socially excluding others, spreading rumors about others).169 Bullying may inflict harm or distress on the targeted youth including physical, psychological, social, or educational harm.170 The Wang, Iannotti, & Nansel study (2009) also examined those students who reported that they had both bullied others and were victims of the same type of bullying (i.e., bully-victims): 26 percent were bully-victims of physical bullying, 38 percent were bully-victims of verbal bullying, and 33 percent were bully-victims of social bullying.169

Few peer victimization studies have been conducted with younger children, but those that have been published suggest that peer victimization and bullying are experienced by many children and are related to negative outcomes. Glew, Fan, Katon, Rivara, and Kernic's study (2005) of 3rd- through 5th-graders found that 22 percent of children were classified as victims, bullies, or both.171 Victims, including children who were bully-victims, had lower achievement scores and were more likely to feel like they did not belong at school compared with bystanders who observed bullying but who were not direct victims of it.

Recently released data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 2010–11 (ECLS-K:2011) provide insight on the prevalence of peer victimization and its relationship with social and emotional behaviors, based on direct reports from teachers. More broadly, the ECLS-K:2011 provides comprehensive data about children's early learning and development, as well as their transition into kindergarten and progress through 2016, when most of the children were in 5th grade.

Using data collected in the spring of 2014, when most of the fall 2010 first-time kindergartners in the ECLS-K:2011 were in 3rd grade,172 this special feature explores three aspects of peer victimization. first, this special feature describes the percentages of 3rd-graders who frequently victimized their peers (i.e., perpetrators), based on teacher reports, overall and in relation to child, family, and school characteristics. Next, the feature explores whether students' perpetration status was related to teacher ratings of their social and emotional behaviors. finally, the feature presents information on the percentages of perpetrators who reported that they were frequently victimized by their peers.

158 Crick, N. R., & Bigbee, M. A. (1998). Relational and overt forms of peer victimization: A multi-informant approach. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 66 (2), 337–347. doi:10.1037/0022-006X.66.2.337

159 Crick, N. R., & Grotpeter, J. K. (1996). Children's treatment by peers: Victims of relational and overt aggression. Development and Psychopathology, 8 (2), 367–380. doi:10.1017/S0954579400007148

160 Nansel, T. R., Overpeck, M., Pilla, R. S., Ruan, W. J., Simons-Morton, B., & Scheidt, P. (2001). Bullying behaviors among U.S. youth: Prevalence and association with psychosocial adjustment. Journal of the American Medical Association, 285 (16), 2094–2100.

161 Prinstein, M. J., Boergers, J., & Vernberg, E. M. (2001). Overt and relational aggression in adolescents: Social-psychological adjustment of aggressors and victims. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, 30 (4), 479–491. doi:10.1207/S15374424JCCP3004_05

162 Storch, E. A., Nock, M. K., Masia-Warner, C., & Barlas, M. E. (2003). Peer victimization and social-psychological adjustment in Hispanic and African-American children. Journal of Child & Family Studies, 12 (4), 439–452. doi:10.1023/A:1026016124091

163 Ringwalt, C. L., Ennett, S., Johnson, R., Rohrbach, L. A., Simons-Rudolph, A., Vincus, A., & Thorne, J. (2003). Factors associated with fidelity to substance use prevention curriculum guides in the nation's middle schools. Health Education & Behavior, 30 (3), 375–391. doi:10.1177/1090198103030003010

164 MacMillan, R., & Hagan, J. (2004). Violence in the transition to adulthood: Adolescent victimization, education, and socioeconomic attainment in later life. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 14 (2), 127–158. doi:10.1111/j.1532-7795.2004.01402001.x

165 Wei, H., & Williams, J. H. (2004). Relationship between peer victimization and school adjustment in sixth-grade students: Investigating mediation effects. Violence and Victims, 19 (5), 557–571. doi:10.1891/vivi.19.5.557.63683

166 Beauvais, F., Chavez, E. L., Oetting, E. R., Deffenbacher, J. L., & Cornell, G. (1996). Drug use, violence, and victimization among White American, Mexican American, and American Indian dropouts, students with academic problems, and students in good academic standing. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 43 (3), 292–299. doi:10.1037/0022-0167.43.3.292

167 Nansel, T. R., Overpeck, M. D., Haynie, D. L., Ruan, W. J., & Scheidt, P. C. (2003). Relationships between bullying and violence among U.S. youth. Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, 157 (4), 348–353.

168 Musu-Gillette, L., Zhang, A., Wang, K., McFarland, J., & Oudekerk, B. A. (2017). Indicators of school crime and safety: 2016 (NCES 2017-XXX/NCJ XXXXXX). U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, and U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics. Retrieved from [LINK]

169 Wang, J., Iannotti, R. J., & Nansel, T. R. (2009). School bullying among adolescents in the United States: Physical, verbal, relational, and cyber. Journal of Adolescent Health, 45 (4), 368–375. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2009.03.021

170 Gladden, R. M., Vivolo-Kantor, A. M., Hamburger, M. E., & Lumpkin, C. D. (2014) Bullying surveillance among youths: Uniform definitions for public health and recommended data elements, Version 1.0. Atlanta, GA. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from

171 Glew, G. M., Fan, M-Y., Katon, W., Rivara, F. P., & Kernic, M. A. (2005). Bullying, psychosocial adjustment, and academic performance in elementary school. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine 159 (11), 1026–1031. doi:10.1001/archpedi.159.11.1026.

172 In the spring of 2014, most of the children were in 3rd grade, but 6 percent were in 2nd grade or other grades (e.g., 4th grade, ungraded classrooms). In this feature, all students are referred to as "3rd-graders," even if they were enrolled in a different grade in spring 2014.