By Dr. Linda Kennedy
When we think of bullying, images of playground confrontations spring to mind. Such as kids being pushed around at recess, having their hair pulled in the hallway, or teased on the school bus. It is often treated as just kids being kids, and with minor and short-term consequences.
However, this is not just an issue of childhood. Research shows that the effects of bullying can persist into adulthood, affecting both the victim and the bully for the rest of their lives.
The very act of bullying is a dangerous one for both parties. Bullying produces strong feelings of fear, shame, embarrassment and guilt in the victim. Bullies use threats to keep their victims quiet, in exactly the same way that abusers (including child sex abusers) silence their targets.
The short-term effects of bullying can be profound. Research has shown that children who are bullied at school are likely to exhibit the following symptoms:
Many of these effects of bullying can be short term, but there are also long-term consequences. In particular, if the bullying continues for a prolonged period of time. Children who are routinely bullied are:
Many of the symptoms are the same as those seen in people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorders. A recent report by the UK Charity Kidscape reported that people who were bullied as children carried the problems with them into later life. Some of the issues included suicidal thoughts, homicidal thoughts, and difficulty relating to people and family.
This is corroborated by researchers from the Yale School of Medicine, who found a strong connection between bullying, being bullied and suicide in children.
This is not just a problem for boys. Girls are just as likely to bully, using social exclusion as a weapon of choice. The long-term effects of this can be devastating - experts believe that this type of social bullying is directly responsible for creating the low self-esteem that leads women towards a path of abusive relationships, unwanted pregnancies, drug and alcohol addiction and a range of poor self-image issues such as anorexia and bulimia.
The effects of bullying aren't just limited to the victims however – recently, researchers have found that six out of ten kids identified as bullies in middle school are convicted of a crime by the time they reach age 24.
The effects of bullying behavior on the perpetrators might even be seen in areas that may at first glance seem unrelated - children whose teachers reported severe persistent behavior problems (including bullying) at 7, 11 and 16 had more than double the risk of Chronic Widespread Pain in adulthood compared with children without behavior problems.
Worryingly for educators, there is a new type of bullying that has emerged in the past decade - cyber bullying. It is estimated that around 10 percent of all adolescents in grades 7-9 are victims of internet bullying. What is so damaging about this type of bullying is that the victim is never left alone - the abuse continues during evenings and weekends. Victims can be harassed continuously via SMS and websites, with information spreading quickly. Once posted, the insults can be difficult to remove, and the perpetrator is often difficult to identify.
Psychologists believe that understanding how bullying affects people in adulthood is vital - when we turn eighteen and leave school we don't leave all these experiences behind us. Rather, we carry them with us, affecting almost every area of our lives.
Dr. Linda Kennedy MS SLP ND: Is an accomplished author and researcher. Having an extensive background in Autism and Special Education Support Services, she spends some of her time tutoring and providing guidance to families of special children. The rest of her time is spent on her passion for animals and nature. Her hobbies include the raising and training of European Dobermans.