A new study reveals that childhood bullying casts a long shadow on health and wealth in one’s adult life, and also indicates long-term negative consequences for job prospects and relationships.
As Sean Coughlan of BBC News reports, the study, which tracked more than 1,400 people between the ages of nine and 26, found that school bullies were also more likely to grow up into adult criminals.
The study conducted by researchers at Warwick University in the United Kingdom and Duke University in the US concluded that bullying should not be seen as “a harmless rite of passage”. The research was published in Psychological Science.
The long-term impact of bullying in childhood was examined through the experiences of three different groups – those who had been bullied, those who had carried out the bullying and those who had been both victims of bullying and had also carried out bullying themselves.
According to the study, the most negative outcomes were for those who had been both victims and perpetrators of bullying, described in the study as bully-victims. These children, who were described as “easily provoked, low in self-esteem, poor at understanding social cues, and unpopular with peers,” grew into adults six times more likely to have a “serious illness, smoke regularly or develop a psychiatric disorder,” according to the study.
These former bully-victims by their mid-20s were more likely to be obese, to have left school without qualifications, to have drifted through jobs and were less likely to have friends, according to the study.
The study found that children who had been victims of bullying without becoming bullies themselves were more likely to have mental health problems, more serious illnesses and had a greater likelihood of being in poverty. As compared with “bully-victims,” these children were more likely to have been successful in education and making friends.
“We cannot continue to dismiss bullying as a harmless, almost inevitable, part of growing up. We need to change this mindset and acknowledge this as a serious problem for both the individual and the country as a whole; the effects are long-lasting and significant,” said Prof Dieter Wolke of the University of Warwick. “In the case of bully-victims, it shows how bullying can spread when left untreated. Some interventions are already available in schools but new tools are needed to help health professionals to identify, monitor and deal with the ill-effects of bullying. The challenge we face now is committing the time and resource to these interventions to try and put an end to bullying.”
Bullying is not a country-specific problem; legislation outlining a zero tolerance policy on bullying is being considered in Japan after a thirteen year-old boy was driven to suicide by classmates.
The young boy, named Hiroki, jumped off the fourteenth floor of his apartment building after being subjected to daily verbal and physical abuse from his classmates. His teachers only issued a verbal warning to the offenders, which did nothing to stop the bullying.
This type of bullying is seen as a ‘rite of passage’ in highly competitive Japanese school systems, but as Hiroki’s case shows, it can lead to tragic consequences.