The experience of bullying in childhood can have negative long-term social and health impacts, concludes a new study published in Psychological Science.
Researchers Dieter Wolke (Warwick, UK), William E. Copeland (Duke), Adrian Angold (Duke), and E. Jane Costello (Duke) knew that “(b)ullying creates risks of health and social problems in childhood,” but they wanted to examine whether “such risks extend into adulthood.” Here’s the summary of their study:
A large cohort of children was assessed for bullying involvement in childhood and then followed up in young adulthood in an assessment of health, risky or illegal behavior, wealth, and social relationships. Victims of childhood bullying, including those that bullied others (bully-victims), were at increased risk of poor health, wealth, and social-relationship outcomes in adulthood even after we controlled for family hardship and childhood psychiatric disorders. In contrast, pure bullies were not at increased risk of poor outcomes in adulthood once other family and childhood risk factors were taken into account. Being bullied is not a harmless rite of passage but throws a long shadow over affected people’s lives. Interventions in childhood are likely to reduce long-term health and social costs.
Lots of takeaway points
The takeaway points from this study are important and many:
- Being a bullying target is associated negative long-term impacts;
- Being both a target and a bully is associated with negative long-term impacts;
- Being a “pure bully” is not associated with negative long-term impacts;
- Failure to prevent and respond to childhood bullying has a short-term and long-term societal impact;
- Positive interventions can make a difference.
Implications for schools, parents, mental health counselors, and policy makers
The implications for stakeholders involved with the care and education of kids are significant. Childhood bullying is not, to borrow from the study abstract, “a harmless rite of passage,” but rather a form of mistreatment that “throws a long shadow over affected people’s lives.”
Educators, parents, and mental health counselors should not treat reports of bullying lightly or dismissively. And school systems and policy makers must regard anti-bullying measures as integral parts of a safe and healthy educational environment.
The long-term impacts of bullying on members of groups more likely to be bullied, such as LGBT and disabled youth, merit special attention.
In public service ads and commercials, bullied kids are being told that “it gets better.” Hopefully that is the case, but this study illustrates how the baggage is carried forward into adulthood.