Understanding the Effects of Bullying on Students Over Time

Bullying is a widespread problem that has lasting effects on students. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 1 in 5 teens have been bullied on high school property. Electronic bullying, or cyberbullying, is even more prevalent. Over 1 in 6 teens reported experiencing cyberbullying within the last year. Since October is National Bullying Prevention Month, we want to bring attention to the harmful impact of bullying on your teen now and in the future. Along with tips on how to spot the signs of bullying and what we can do to prevent it.

There are many forms of bullying. The CDC defines it as aggressive behavior towards a youth or youths that inflicts physical, psychological, social, or educational harm or distress. It typically involves an imbalance in social, economic, or institutional power. For example, it could look like a student harassing another about their appearance or ethnicity, an upperclassman athlete hazing a lower classman on their team, a teacher habitually humiliating a student, or a group of friends intentionally excluding another friend. Every form of bullying can profoundly impact students, especially during middle school and high school.

Bullying isn’t just “kids being kids.” It is harmful. There are numerous short-term and long-term effects of bullying on mental health, and physical health. It also impacts educational attainment, work performance, and relationships. The effect of bullying isn’t limited to victims of it. Children who participate in bullying or are bystanders also suffer negative consequences. Widespread bullying creates a hostile school culture where students distrust their teachers and feel unsafe.

What are the effects of bullying?

Short-Term Effects of Being Bullied

The short-term effects of being bullied on mental health and wellbeing include:

  • Increased depression and anxiety, especially chronic loneliness and anxiety about attending school.
  • Poor academic performance, often due to skipping school to avoid bullying or being disengaged at school.
  • Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms including trouble sleeping, difficulty concentrating, irritability, overwhelming guilt or shame.
  • Psychosomatic symptoms including stomachaches, headaches, or general aches and pains with no medical.
  • Low self-esteem.

Students who bully others are more likely to:

  • Have academic problems or drop out of school.
  • Participate in risky, often harmful, behaviors such as fighting and vandalism.

Bystanders often feel:

  • afraid, helpless, and guilty for not intervening to help their peers.
Long-Term Effects of Bullying

The effects of bullying on children last long after they have graduated. Research on the long-term effects of bullying has found that it can impact your teen’s physical and physiological wellbeing and life outcomes in adulthood.

Adults who were bullied as children are likely to have:

  • Recurring PTSD symptoms, especially after a trigger event like running into an old classmate or visiting their high school.
  • Poorer physical and psychological health than their peers who were not bullied, such as high rates of chronic and generalized anxiety and chronic depression.
  • Lower levels of educational attainment and increased rates of unemployment.
  • Difficulty developing healthy friendships and romantic partnerships.

Adults who bullied others as a child are likely to have:

  • Criminal convictions from aggressive behavior such as fighting and vandalism.
  • Abusive relationships with romantic partners, spouses, or children.
  • Lower levels of educational attainment and increased rates of unemployment.
  • Increased risk of alcohol and drug abuse.

Adults who were bystanders of bullying are likely to have:

  • Increased risk of abusing tobacco, alcohol, or other drugs as an adult.
  • Increased risk of struggling with mental health problems such as depression and anxiety.

Warning Signs of Bullying

As a parent, it can be challenging to know if your child is being bullied or bullying others. Many children fall into both categories at one point or another. Your student may not openly exhibit any warning signs. Initiating open conversations with your teen about their interactions at school and online can be the most effective method to uncover bullying. There are some signs that you can look for.

Signs Your Student is Being Bullied
  • Frequent stomachaches, headaches, complaints of soreness, or excuses to skip school.
  • Significant changes in their eating habits such as eating large snacks after school because they didn’t eat lunch, binge eating, or skipping meals.
  • Loss of interest in school, school activities they once loved, or declining grades.
  • Self-destructive behaviors such as self-harm, talking about suicide or running away.
  • Sudden loss of friends or desire to avoid social situations.
  • Lost or damaged electronics, books, jewelry, or clothing.
  • Difficulty sleeping or frequent night terrors.
  • Decreased self-esteem.
  • Unexplainable injuries.

If you notice these signs, keep in mind that there may be another reason besides bullying. Therefore, it is crucial to speak to your teen to uncover the underlying cause. Your child may need additional support from a trusted mentor, counselor, or therapist to help them.

Signs Your Student is Bullying Others
  • Has friends who bully others.
  • Unexplained belongings or extra money.
  • Frequent detention or trips to the principal’s office.
  • Habitually blaming others for their problems or actions.
  • Unwillingness to accept responsibility for their actions.
  • Competitiveness or great concern about their reputation or popularity.
  • Increasingly aggressive behavior, including physical or verbal fights.

No parents want to believe their child could harm another. But, unfortunately, it does happen. It’s important to realize that your child’s brain is still developing. If they are bullying others, you can help them change their behavior.

Bullying Prevention: How We Can All Help

We can all play a role in preventing bullying by teaching young children and teens emotional intelligence. Many schools and parents have tried to curb bullying through punishment. However, studies continually show that this method isn’t effective. What works is teaching children emotional intelligence or social and emotional learning (SEL).

Developmental psychologist Dr. Diana Divecha and her colleague Dr. Marc Brackett from the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence reviewed dozens of studies of real-world bullying prevention efforts. They found two promising research-tested approaches that reduced bullying along with other forms of aggression and conflict:

  • Cultivating a positive school climate that fosters healthy social and emotional child development.
  • Teaching students SEL.

Dr. Divecha defines SEL as teaching the “skills of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, responsible decision making, and relationships management.” In other words, teaching children how to recognize their emotions, understand the impact their actions have on others, make responsible decisions, and resolve conflict non-violently.

You can play a significant role in preventing bullying by making SEL a cornerstone of your parenting and enrolling your child in a school that prioritizes SEL. According to numerous research reviewsmeta-analyses, and hundreds of individual studies on thousands of K-12 students analyzed by Dr. Divecha and Dr. Brackett, incorporating SEL into the classroom and home has a profound impact. “It reduces a range of problems like anxiety, emotional distress, and depression; reduces disruptive behaviors like conflicts, aggression, bullying, anger, and hostile attribution bias; and it improves academic achievement, creativity, and leadership.” You can enhance your teen’s life now and in the future by fostering an environment at home that supports SEL.

SEL is a foundational part of Fusion Academy’s programs. We hope you will partner with us to prevent bullying by teaching your child emotional intelligence at home. You can learn more about SEL at Fusion Academy here, and find an outstanding list of SEL strategies and resources for parents here at Edutopia. Hopefully, together we can foster the change we want to see in our children’s lives.

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