Long-term harassment seen to cause mental and physical problems, even after bullying stops
Bullied kids may experience lasting damage to their physical and mental health—especially if the bullying goes on for years.
A new study of nearly 4,300 children from Birmingham, Alabama; Houston and Los Angeles found that kids who are picked on from fifth grade to 10th grade had the lowest scores on measures of physical and emotional health. Children bullied at a younger age for shorter periods fared better, but they were still worse off than their peers who’d never been victimized.
“The message is straightforward,” says Laura Bogart, a social psychologist at Boston Children’s Hospital and the study’s lead author. “The effects of bullying compound over time, and it’s important to catch it early.”
The researchers found that about 30 percent of the kids surveyed said they were bullied—teased or physically pushed—at least once a week. The bullied kids also reported discomfort playing sports and had more symptoms of anxiety, depression and low self-worth.
Though Bogart says her team’s findings cannot prove bullying caused kids’ mental and physical trauma, the new study highlights the importance of prevention. The good news is that many school systems have established anti-bullying policies designed to put a stop to abusive behavior.
Parents, too, should be aware of signs their child is being bullied. “Every adult who’s involved in a child’s life needs to be aware that bullying is out there,” Bogart says. “It really can put a child on a downward trajectory with their health over time, so adults need to look for the signs.” Physical signs include unexplained cuts and bruises, while emotional signs include a child acting withdrawn, faking illness or having difficulty sleeping.