With all the recent attention that bullying has gotten in the media, it is not surprising that the subject is highly researched. This month in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, a new study was published about the long-term effects of bullying. The psychologists studied more than four thousand children over the span of six years in three cities. The study dealt with children who never experienced bullying, children who experienced bullying in the past and present, children who experienced bullying in the past only, or children who experienced bullying in the present only. The researchers checked on the children’s mental and physical health in fifth, seventh, and tenth grade.
What the researchers found is not groundbreaking, but confirms what many of us in education have been noticing for years. Children who have been bullied in the past, and do not work through the negative feelings of self-depreciation and depression at the time of the bullying, are more likely to be depressed and have low self-esteem as they grow older. Children who were bullied in the past also tend to be heavier than their peers if their feelings of decreased self-worth are not addressed at the time of the bullying. The study clearly indicates that even if the bullying is stopped, without remediation, it carries long-term mental and physical effects.
So, what can be done to fight the long-term effects? First, we need to create a zero-tolerance plan for bullying in our schools.
Who is a bully?
Contrary to popular belief, bullies need not be boys and they need not be big and strong. Many bullies are girls or boys who are smaller than many of their peers. Rather than physical attributes, bullies share many emotional aspects:
- Abuse of power: Children who are bullies thrive on abusing the social power in their hands. They want to make other people feel bad because this way they maintain their control over the people around them.
- Self esteem. Many bullies will put other people down to feel better about themselves. On the other hand, there are bullies who are very self-confident and simply bully because they believe everyone should behave according to their wishes.
- Lack of empathy: Children who put other people down or attack them physically lack empathy, the ability to understand what other people are feeling. They do not care how their actions negatively affect others.
- Role models: Often, children who are bullies have role models in their home (perhaps an older sibling) who exhibits bullying behavior.
Children who bullies are not often brought in for social skills training or counseling. Rather, it is the victim who gets help. If schools implement social skills training in order to build healthy self-esteem, instill empathy, and create positive role models, both the bully and the victim will be benefit. In effect, a school-wide effort to teach essential social skills, could change the school’s whole culture.
Who is a victim?
While children who are the victims of bullying often have low self-esteem, it is unclear whether this low self-esteem is a result of or a cause of the bullying behavior. Below, I explain some common characteristics of children who are bullied:
- Isolated: Victims of bullying are often loners. They spend a lot of time alone and therefore do not have a good support network.
- Different: Children who are slightly different – either religiously or physically – will be targeted. These differences set them apart and make them an obvious target for bullies.
- Strong Response to Bullying: Perhaps the most significant characteristics of children who are bullied is their response to the bully. Children who are bullied on a consistent basis show their hurt and anger to the bully, rather than ignoring him or her.