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Telling an Adult at School about Bullying: Subsequent Victimization and Internalizing Problems



Bullied students are at increased risk of internalizing problems. Many school bullying-prevention programs encourage targets of bullying to seek help from an adult at school. However, few students report victimization to school staff, and reports do not always result in positive outcomes for the victimized student. This study aimed to understand factors associated with students telling an adult at school about experienced victimization, and victimization and internalizing problems a year after taking this action.


Students in Grade 7–9 (mean age 13 years) in 12 schools completed online surveys in 2015 (T1). Data from the victimized students (n = 316) were analyzed to determine factors associated with speaking with school staff about their experience. The Grade 7–8 students were surveyed again in 2016 (T2) and matched data on 101 students victimized at T1 used to compare the longer-term internalizing problems and victimization outcomes for students who spoke with staff.


Victimization status and level of internalizing problems at T2 of students bullied at T1 were associated with telling an adult at T1, and these associations were moderated by severity of T1 victimization. For students more severely victimized at T1, speaking with a staff member was associated with increased odds of continued victimization at T2, but fewer internalizing problems when compared to those who did not tell.


To prevent persistent victimization, schools and teachers need to be better equipped to respond effectively when a student first becomes a target of bullying, and discourage ongoing perpetrator behavior.

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Data Availability

Based on the ethical requirements under which permission to conduct the research was obtained, we are unable to make these data openly accessible.


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Author Contributions

T.S.: collaborated in the conceptualization of the study, conducted the data analyses, wrote sections of and edited the manuscript. M.C.: contributed to the literature review and discussion. J.E.: collaborated in the conceptualization of the study, conducted data analyses, and wrote first drafts of the literature review and methods. K.R.: Directed the larger study from which these data derived; collaborated on the design, writing, and editing of the mauscript. C.S.: collaborated with the design and writing of the manuscript. D.C.: conceptualized the larger study from which these data derived and collaborated in the writing and editing of the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Thérèse Shaw.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

Ethics approval was received from the University of Western Australia and Edith Cowan University, the State Department of Education and the Catholic Education office, and schools. All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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Government schools required written informed parental (opt-in) consent; non-government schools permitted informed opt-out consent from parents for student survey completion.

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Shaw, T., Campbell, M.A., Eastham, J. et al. Telling an Adult at School about Bullying: Subsequent Victimization and Internalizing Problems. J Child Fam Stud 28, 2594–2605 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-019-01507-4

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  • Bullying victimization
  • Mental health
  • Internalizing problems
  • Help-seeking
  • School