Chronic bullying causes long-lasting problems

Children who experience chronic bullying by their peers have substantially worse health problems than other children, and the effects of bullying can remain after the harassment itself has ended, according to a study in Pediatrics.

Previous research has established a clear link between bullying and health problems. However, the authors claim that this study is the first to track the connection over a longer period—a span of five years, to be exact.

About the study

The study involved 4,297 students who filled out questionnaires and took part in interviews when they were in 5th, 7th and 10th grades.

One questionnaire focused on personal experiences related to bullying. (“How often did kids kick or push you in a mean way during the past 12 months?”) Researchers used other tools to measure the students’ mental health, symptoms of depression and feelings of self-worth.

Parents reported on the children’s physical health throughout the study. They were asked whether the child was undergoing therapy for speech or physical difficulties. Researchers also tracked the children’s weight and height to determine body mass index (BMI), a measure of body fat.

In their analysis, the researchers separated the children into four groups:

  • Those who were never bullied.
  • Those who were bullied in the past but not currently.
  • Those who were not bullied in the past but were currently being bullied.
  • Those who were bullied both in the past and currently.

Close to one-third of the children reported being frequently bullied at one or more of the study points. All the children who had been bullied at one time or another scored lower on the mental health assessments than children who had never been bullied. Children bullied in both the past and present had the lowest scores across the board.

Similar patterns were seen for measurements of physical health, feelings of self-worth and symptoms of depression.

“Taken as a whole, our findings not only bolster previous research results on the enduring consequences of bullying but also suggest that early intervention to stop the cycle of bullying could be effective in reversing the potential downward health trajectory experienced by youth who are repeated targets [of harassment],” the authors concluded.

The take-home message
Parents, teachers and other adults must intervene whenever bullying is suspected. Adults also should understand that the mental and physical health consequences of bullying may continue long after the harassment itself has ended.

For more information about bullying, including cyberbullying and how parents can support a child who’s been harassed by his or her peers, visit www.stopbullying.gov.