Adverse Childhood Experiences and Bullying During Adolescence: A Systematic Literature Review of Two Decades

Gabriel J. Merrin, Joy Huanhuan Wang, Sarah M. Kiefer, Jesseca L. Jackson, Lauren A. Pascarella, Paige L. Huckaby, Corinne L. Blake, Michael D. Gomez, Nicholas D.W. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


There is a need for a comprehensive understanding of the relationship between adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and the emergence of bullying behaviors in adolescence, as well as their subsequent implications for youth well-being. This study systematically reviewed the link between 11 unique ACEs (including the original 10 from the 1998 CDC-Kaiser ACE study plus child welfare involvement) and three specific bullying behaviors (i.e., perpetration, victimization, and bully-victim) over two decades (1999–2019). Five databases (i.e., Embase, ERIC, PsycINFO, PTSDpubs, and PubMed) were used to identify 51 studies. The findings showed a consistent pattern of positive associations for certain ACEs, specifically cumulative ACEs, maltreatment, family violence, physical abuse, and domestic violence, with bullying perpetration and victimization. However, sexual abuse and divorce and separation were not consistently related to perpetration or victimization. In addition, general abuse was positively associated with perpetration, whereas emotional abuse and children in the welfare system tended to be victims rather than perpetrators of bullying. Notably, several ACEs, including neglect and household dysfunction, remain largely understudied in relation to bullying. The research also predominantly focuses on bullying perpetration and victimization, with bully-victims receiving much less attention. Finally, the research on the impact of bullying behaviors on the well-being of youth with ACEs is too limited to make definitive conclusions regarding the mediating or moderating role of bullying on youth well-being outcomes. The results underscore the importance of understanding and accounting for the simultaneous and cumulative effects of ACEs. This understanding is essential when designing trauma-informed interventions and prevention strategies to combat bullying. Future longitudinal studies should rectify methodological and psychometric shortcomings, investigate potential mediators and moderators, and integrate health outcomes of positive experiences with adverse childhood experiences to capture shared risk and resilience pathways.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalAdolescent Research Review
StateAccepted/In press - 2023


  • Adolescent development
  • Adverse childhood experiences
  • Bullying
  • Systematic review
  • Trauma-informed care

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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