Most people can recall being bullied during childhood. The memories are no doubt unpleasant: Taunting, insults, put-downs, and threats. Researchers report verbal aggression can wreak long-term mental and emotional harm, particularly during a person’s formative adolescent years.
Charles Atkin, contributor to the Journal of Applied Communication Research, and his colleagues coordinated a survey of 2,300 adolescents about their experiences with verbal aggression, defined as swearing at, insulting, or making cruel/mean comments about another person.
The respondents were between the ages of 13 and 15 and were carefully selected to reflect the demographics of U.S. Teens. The following are some of the studies findings:
The average teen observes about 100 verbally aggressive acts per year. About 40 percent say they witness such acts on a daily basis.
There is a strong correlation between verbal aggression and physical aggression—that is, teens who talk more aggressively tend to act more aggressively, and vice versa.
There is also a strong correlation between verbal aggression and low grades in school, as well as between verbal aggression and substance abuse.
Verbal aggression is reciprocal: “Adolescents who most often perform verbal aggression tend to be the same ones who report being targets of verbally aggressive comments.”
Boys are only slightly more likely to engage in verbal aggression than are girls.
Overall, the researchers report “surprisingly small differences” in verbal aggression according to sex, family income, race, or school size. They see this as “further indication of the pervasiveness of verbally aggressive behavior, which saturates all demographic segments of the adolescent culture.”
In other words, bullying is a serious and significant adolescent problem—which points to the importance of teaching teens constructive ways to communicate during conflict.