Many people think that bullying is a normal part of childhood or that "kids will be kids." However, research shows that in fact, bullying can cause negative academic, physical, social, emotional, and psychological consequences on victims, bullies, and witnesses. These consequences can be short-term or long-term. Bullying can also greatly affect the overall climate of a school.
First of all, as a result of being bullied, victims may experience many immediate mental or physical health-related consequences. Studies show that victims have more anxiety, sadness, sleep difficulties, low self-esteem, headaches, stomach pain, and general tension than their peers who are not being bullied. Researchers from Finland discovered that victims are more likely than bullies to suffer from anxiety disorders, such as depression, separation anxiety, panic disorder, etc. Also, this psychological stress can cause victims' bodies to be less resistant to disease and infection, and therefore they may get sick more often.
In the social area, victims have few friends or none at all. Due to their high anxiety level and low self-worth, it is very hard for them to make friends. This leads to feelings of isolation and believing that they are not even worthy of having friends. Also, other kids often do not want to become friends with the victims, because they are afraid that they will be bullied as well. Another reason that other kids do not hang around with victims is because they worry that peers will not like them if they associate with the victims.
Feelings of loneliness and sadness on the part of victims can also lead to consequences related to their learning and school success. Being a victim can result in poor school attendance, because many victims become afraid of going to school. They are also scared of riding the school bus or using the bathroom at school. One study found that 8% of 8th graders in the U.S. miss at least one day of school per month for fear of bullies. Victims often receive lower grades due to attendance problems, and also due to their stress and worry. They become obsessed with the bullying and how to try to avoid it. This leaves little or no time, energy, or concern for schoolwork and learning. A vicious cycle can occur because the victim's poor school performance can lead to embarrassment and anxiety, which can in turn cause them to be picked on even more.
Another possible result of being bullied is that victims may become violent, either at the time of the bullying or in their futures. This violent behavior may be directed toward themselves, toward their school in general, or may even be directed as retaliation toward the bullies themselves. Sometimes the violent behavior can lead to even more bullying towards the victim, as the bullies want revenge on the victim for bullying them.
Some experts believe that school shootings are related to bullying. Students who committed school shootings were over two times as likely to have reported that they were victims of bullying.
As mentioned earlier, victims are more likely to suffer from anxiety disorders and depression, and these disorders can continue into adulthood. Sometimes the disorders can also cause difficulties with the victims' family, friends, and co-workers in their futures.
In some cases, the bullying may be so severe and may go on for so long that the victim has thoughts of suicide, (which is also called suicidal ideation), or he or she may actually commit suicide. Victims are also more likely to have attempted suicide than their non-bullied peers. The term "bullycide" is used to describe a victim's suicide that occurs due to extreme bullying behavior by a bully toward that victim.
The following poem (from the 4 Troubled Teens website) shows the sadness and desperation on the part of a 13 year old boy in Manchester, England who hung himself as a result of serious bullying:
I shall remember forever and will never forget
Monday: My money taken
Tuesday: Names called
Wednesday: My uniform torn
Thursday: My body pouring with blood
Friday: It's ended
Children who bully others also experience many short term and long term consequences of their bullying behavior. They are more likely to get involved in other harmful activities, both as a child and as an adult. While they are still young, they may steal or vandalize property, start or join in on physical fights, become injured in a fight, skip school, carry a weapon in order to scare others, or use alcohol and other drugs. They are also five times more likely to be taken to criminal court and to be found guilty of a crime than are their peers who do not participate in bullying behavior.
Most bullies do not just "outgrow" their bullying behaviors when they get older. Instead, the aggressive behavior continues into adulthood. A study conducted by psychologist Dan Olweus of Norway found that 60% of students in Scandinavian countries who were classified as bullies in 6th through 9th grade had one or more incidents of being convicted of a crime by the time they were 24 years old. Also, these bullies were four or more times as likely as nonbullies to be involved in numerous convictions of crimes. Another study showed that by the time they were 30 years old, one out of 4 bullies had a criminal record.
The bullies' need for power tends to carry on into their grownup years. As adults, these bullies misuse this power by becoming involved in sexual and racial harassment, child abuse, domestic violence, etc. Their need for power can also show up in how they parent their own children. In turn, their children may even bully other children in the future.
Remember how a researcher from Finland found that victims were more likely to develop anxiety disorders than bullies were? That same researcher discovered that bullies were more likely to have an antisocial personality disorder as opposed to anxiety disorders. An antisocial personality disorder involves a long-term disregard for others, delinquent behavior, violence, aggression, and violation of the rights of others. In other words, since bullies do not learn appropriate social skills when they are young, they grow up to be antisocial adults. They will have poor relationships with others, including family members, friends, co-workers, etc.
Finally victims aren't the only ones who may become depressed, think about suicide, or carry out suicide; in some cases, the same can be true for bullies.
There are also consequences for children who are bystanders or witnesses to bullying. They suffer from frustration, fear, low self-esteem, and a loss of control. They may also feel a huge sense of guilt about the bullying they witness, especially if they do not "S.A.V.E." the victim and the bullying continues. Sometimes their guilt is too much for them to accept. In these cases, the witnesses may go from empathizing with the victim to later thinking that the bullying is acceptable. This is their way of preventing themselves from feeling more guilt in the future; they will simply not even recognize that someone is being hurt.
Witnesses also develop a lot of anxiety and stress. They worry that they will also become a victim and therefore their feelings of safety and security at school decrease. This leads to negative feelings toward school, which can also contribute to problems with learning and achievement.
After reading about the effects of bullying on bullies, victims, and bystanders, do you think it makes sense to say, "Kids will be kids?" We don't! We think that the research about the consequences of bullying really shows that we must all do everything we can to prevent childhood bullying. Be a H.E.R.O. in your school, neighborhood and community: Help Everyone Respect Others!