I was bullied occasionally as a teen. Not physically, not horrifically, and not repetitively by groups of people. But, I was bullied enough to leave a mark that, at the time, made me extremely self conscious and defensive, and today, makes me hyper aware of any bullying I see - in children or adults. I say adults because let's face it, it happens. Thankfully, I'm one of millions who go on to lead perfectly normal, productive lives. But as we've seen time and time again, not every bullying victim is so lucky.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that bullying is detrimental to a child’s health. Bullying impacts everyone – those who are bullied, those who bully, and those who witness the bullying. It can come in all shapes and sizes, but the three main types are physical, verbal, and emotional bullying. Cyber bullying, which we frequently hear and read about, is considered a sub-category of these three, in that it can take on any form of bullying that incorporates technology.
Regardless of the type of bullying, there are effects on everyone. According to stopbullying.gov, “kids who are bullied are more likely to experience depression and anxiety, increased feelings of sadness and loneliness, changes in sleep and eating patterns…health complaints, and decreased academic achievement.” In the most tragic of cases, victims of bullying have resorted to suicide. In fact, researchers at Yale School of Medicine, after reviewing studies on bullying, found victims were "two to nine times more likely to report suicidal thoughts than other children were."
A Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SMHSA) information brief goes on to note additional impacts. Those who were bullied, "were nearly three times as likely to have issues with generalized anxiety as those who were not bullied and 4.6 times as likely to suffer from panic attacks or agoraphobia."
Given the pain they're causing, those who bully aren't given much empathy or sympathy. But, they're also open to complications. Those kids who bully others are more likely than their peers to abuse alcohol and drugs as teens and adults, become aggressive and get into fights and drop out of school, engage in early sexual activity, and become abusive toward their partners, spouses, or children in adulthood, according to stopbullying.gov.
In addition, those children who admitted to being both a bully, and a victim of bullying, were at "nearly five times greater risk of depression as young adults compared to those who had only experienced being a bully or only experienced being a victim," (SAMHSA).
Then there are the spectators. The kids who don't bully, and who are not being bullied, but watch it take place - voluntarily or involuntarily. Those kids have shown an increased use of tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs, have increased mental health problems, and miss or skip school (stopbullying.gov).
The above information is easily available, and to an extent addresses the long-term effects of bullying. However, a recent study published by Duke University professors delves further into the impact childhood bullying can have later in life. Key findings included:
- Youth who were victims of bullying had a higher chance of having agoraphobia, anxiety, and panic disorders.
- Youth who bullied were at risk for antisocial personality disorder.
- Youth who bullied and were also victims of bullying were at a higher risk for adult depression and panic disorder. For this group, there was an increased risk for agoraphobia in females and suicidality in males.
It's not unreasonable to assume that we all fall into one of these three categories. And, if we're all involved, we all have a responsibility to end the problem. I was a teen less than 10 years ago, and even then, schools and the media were significantly less focused on bullying and implementing programs to stop it. But just because there weren't prominent programs in place, and the media wasn't focusing on bullying, doesn't mean it didn't exist. Chances are, it's existed for all time - but that does not, in any way, shape, or form, make it okay.
So what do we do? We try to stop it. Even though it's difficult, and we may never be able to stop it, we try. We support all the kids involved. We get more aggressive with reprocussions. We recognize that anti-bullying programs likely aren't enough. But we try nonetheless. Because bullying isn't just a part of being a child, and it's unacceptable to think of it as such. It's a problem. It's an epidemic. And unless everyone becomes an active member in stopping it, it will still be here tomorrow and forever.
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