Bullying is a serious threat to our youth today. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), bullying affects 20% of high school students and cyberbullying affects 16% of high school students. Surveys compiled by the CDC also show that 33% of students ages 12-18 who reported bullying at school and 27% of students ages 12-18 who reported cyberbullying indicated that they were bullied at least once or twice a month. Middle schools reported the highest rate of bullying (25%), at least once a week.

Bullying can have negative short and long-term consequences for both the victim and the bully. While traditional intervention for bullying tends to include getting help for the victim and establishing consequences for the bully, it should be noted that both the victim and the bully benefit from psychosocial support.

Short-term effects of bullying for the victim

All kids are different and are likely to exhibit varying behaviors during or after bullying by a peer. With relational aggression on the rise and cyberbullying easier than ever, it should be noted that bullying can be ongoing for long periods of time before students seek help.

A UCLA study of 2,300 students in eleven middle schools in Los Angeles found that a high level of bullying was associated with lower grades across three years of middle school. Students who were rated as the most bullied performed significantly worse academically than their peers.

Effects on the bullied victim can include:

• Social isolation
• Feelings of shame
• Sleep disturbance
• Changes in eating habits
• Low self-esteem
• School avoidance
• Symptoms of anxiety
• Bedwetting
• Higher risk of illness
• Psychosomatic symptoms (stomachaches, headaches, muscle aches, other physical complaints with no known medical cause)
• Poor school performance
• Symptoms of depression

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Short-term effects of bullying for the bully

While it can be difficult to empathize with the bully, it’s essential that parents and school officials recognize that bullies engage in bullying behavior for a reason. Without help, the behavior will continue, and potentially worsen, over time.

Effects on the bully can include:

• Poor school performance (missed school due to suspensions increases this risk)
• Increased truancy risk
• Difficulty maintaining social relationships
• Increased risk of substance abuse

One longitudinal study led by a group of scientists in Norway investigated the long-term psychological effects of adolescents. Results of the study indicated that all groups involved in bullying during adolescence, both bullies and victims, experienced adverse mental health outcomes in adulthood. While the victims showed a high level of depressive symptoms in adulthood, both groups experienced an increased risk of psychiatric hospitalization due to mental health disorders.

Long-term risks of bullying for the victim

With immediate and proper mental health treatment and support systems in place, victims can stave off some of the potential long-term consequences of bullying. Without intervention, however, kids are at risk for the following:
• Chronic depression
• Increased risk of suicidal thoughts, suicide plans, and suicide attempts
• Anxiety disorders
• Post-traumatic stress disorder
• Poor general health
• Self-destructive behavior, including self-harm
• Substance abuse
• Difficulty establishing trusting, reciprocal friendships and relationships

Long-term effects of bullying for the bully

Without proper treatment, bullying behavior is likely to continue into adulthood.
• Risk of spousal or child abuse
• Risk of antisocial behavior
• Substance abuse
• Less likely to be educated or employed

Childhood bullying has serious effects on both short and long-term health of children. Immediate intervention and long-term follow-up can help mediate some of these effects. It is imperative that schools, families, and communities work together to understand bullying and its consequences and find ways to decrease, and hopefully eradicate, bullying both in schools and communities.

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Last Updated: Sep 26, 2018