Childhood Bullying: The Crushing Effects

bullyingBullying is a national concern. It is a humiliating experience that makes a child feel socially isolated and helpless.[1] They feel like no one cares or could understand their pain.1 At least 10 percent of children are bullied regularly.[2]

There is no single factor that puts a child at risk of being bullied: it can happen anywhere and to anyone.1 However, some are at a higher risk. For instance, in some parts of the country, LGBT+ youth are a particular target for children who bully.1 Generally, those who are bullied more often are seen as being “different” than their peers. Being overweight, underweight, wearing glasses, being the new kid at school, and being unable to afford what’s “cool” are common reasons children are bullied.1 Bullies pick on their weak peers who have low self-esteem and are less popular than others.1

Children who bully are often overly concerned about their popularity, have social power, and enjoy being in charge of others.1 They are often easily frustrated and aggressive, have less parental involvement at home, view violence as a positive thing, think badly of others, and have difficulty following the rules.1 They need not be stronger or bigger than those they bully—the power imbalance can stem from a number of sources, such as popularity and cognitive ability.1

There are several warning sign that indicate that someone is either being bullied or is bullying others.1 Recognizing these warning signs is the first step towards taking action against bullying.1 Not all children will ask for help.1

Not every child who is being bullied shows warning signs, but many do. Look for changes in the child, as well as unexplainable injuries, lost or destroyed personal property, frequent head and stomach aches, faking illness, changes in eating habits, difficulty sleeping, frequent nightmares, declining grades, not wanting to go to school, sudden loss of friends, decreased self-esteem, and self-destructive behavior.1 Fifteen percent of all school absenteeism is directly related to fears of being bullied at school.2

Children who bully others also show warning signs. They often get into physical or verbal fights, have friends who bully others, are increasingly aggressive, are given detention frequently, visit the principal’s office often, have unexplained money or new belongings, do not accept responsibility for their actions, and are competitive.1

Bullying is linked to many negative outcomes, including impacts on mental health, substance use, and suicide.1 Children who are bullied often develop depression and anxiety, increased feelings of sadness and loneliness, and loss of interest in school and activities they used to enjoy.1 Oftentimes, these issues persist into adulthood if treatment is not sought.1

A small number—very small—of bullied children are in such pain that they retaliate through extreme violent measures.1 Of the 15 school shooting cases in the 1990s, 12 of the shooters had a history of being bullied.1 Shootings are a desire to get back at those who have hurt them.2

Children who bully others are more likely to abuse alcohol and other drugs in adolescence and adulthood, engage in early sexual activity, have criminal convictions as adults, and act abusive towards their romantic partners, spouses, and children.1

While media reports often link bullying with suicide, most youth who are bullied do not have suicidal thoughts or behaviors.1 Although children who are bullied are at risk of suicide, bullying is not the only causing factor.1 Depression, problems at home, and trauma are often involved.1 The risk is increased when children are not supported by their parents, peers, and school system.1 In fact, bullying can make an unsupportive situation worse.1

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