According to a new study, childhood bullying can have lasting impacts well into adulthood, affecting health, the ability to hold down a job and social relationships.
Childhood bullying has long presented a problem for schools, parents and public policy makers alike. Yet, while children spend more time among their peers than their parents, relatively little research has been done on the impact of these interactions beyond school.
Published in the journal Psychological Science, the study highlights the extent to which problems related to health, poverty, and social relationships are amplified through exposure to bullying, accounting for many factors that go beyond health-related outcomes.
The research team looked beyond the victims of bullying and investigated the impact on all those affected: victims, bullies, and “bully-victims” – those who fall into both categories. The study assessed 1,420 participants four to six times between the ages of 9 and 16 years and again between 24 and 26 years of age to evaluate adult impacts
Bullying can no longer be dismissed as an inevitable part of growing up. Based on the findings, there is a need for a changed mindset to acknowledge its long-lasting effects.
“Bully-victims” were at greatest risk for developing health problems later in life – more than six times as likely to develop a serious illness or psychiatric disorder compared to those not involved in bullying. This result has led researchers to believe that bully-victims may be the most vulnerable group of all. By turning to bullying after being bullied themselves, bully-victims may lack the emotional support to cope.
The existence of bully-victims also demonstrates how bullying can spread when left untreated. While some interventions are available in schools, health professionals require new tools to identify, monitor, and deal with the lasting impact of bullying.
All the groups involved in bullying were more than twice as likely to have difficulty in holding a job or maintaining any savings, and thus displayed a higher propensity for impoverishment in young adulthood.
However, the findings reveal very few ill effects of being the bully. Taking into account the influence of childhood psychiatric problems and family hardships prevalent among bullies, the act of bullying itself did not appear to significantly impact adulthood.
There was no real difference in the likelihood of being married or having children, but all groups appeared to have difficulty forming social relationships, particularly in the long term.