Bullying’s Impact Is Greater Than We Think, Study Says

The detrimental effects can last through adulthood.

We all know that bullying has been going on for centuries. From bickering brothers fighting for a royal crown, to religious crusades, to current NFL scandals and suspensions, people have been and will continue to bully each other for centuries to come. But in today’s society, the Internet’s anonymity presents itself as the perfect sounding board for cowards to hide behind. It seems like every month or so we are seeing the news of another teenager committing suicide over bullying of some kind. This is a tragedy. And it’s not just teens. Read the comments section of pretty much any website (even ours). It’s pathetic, middle-aged “grown-ups” spewing hate at each other.

In his interviews with Michael Moore for the Oscar-winning documentary “Bowling for Columbine,” Matt Stone (one the creator’s of “South Park”) says that he just wants to reach out and tell these high school kids that it really does get better. That high school ends. That after you graduate, the people who are your whole world right now will most likely mean nothing to you. That in five years, you may not even remember their names. (And he could add that in 10 years, you’ll attend—or not—your high school reunion, and pretty everyone who picked on you will most likely be fat and bald.)

It turns out though, that the effects of bullying may stay with you for life.

According to a first of its kind study from Boston Children’s Hospital, which was published online in the journal Pediatrics, the longer the period of time a child is bullied, the more severe and lasting the impact is on a child’s health. The study is the first to examine the compounding effects of bullying from elementary school to high school.

“Our research shows that long-term bullying has a severe impact on a child’s overall health, and its negative effects can accumulate and get worse with time,” says the study’s first author, Laura Bogart, from Boston Children’s Division of General Pediatrics. “It reinforces the notion that more bullying intervention is needed, because the sooner we stop a child from being bullied, the less likely bullying is to have a lasting, damaging effect on his or her health down the road.”

Bogart and her team collected data from 4,297 children and adolescents from 5th to 10th grade. The researchers periodically interviewed the children about their mental and physical health and their experience with bullying. The researchers found that bullying at any age was associated with worse mental and physical health, increased depressive symptoms, and lower self-worth.

According to the study:

Participants who experienced chronic bullying also reported increased difficulties in physical activities like walking, running or participating in sports. Those who experience ongoing bullying (both in the past and the present) showed the lowest health scores.

According to the authors, the study reinforces the importance of early intervention to stop bullying and to be aware of the need to intervene again, even if the bullying is not ongoing, to address the persistent effects. Bogart and colleagues are calling for increased research to better develop and clinically test bullying prevention and intervention methods.

“There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to addressing bullying,” Bogart says. “But by providing teachers, parents, and clinicians with evidence-based best practices, they would be better equipped to assist those at the frontlines helping children cope with this serious problem and lessen the damage.”