Most parents know that children who are bullies and children who are the victims of bullies have trouble at school. They understand that social relationships are important to kids and that being a victim – and even being a perpetrator – isolates children and makes them sad.
Now a new study takes things further: children who are involved in bullying in any way have more problems as adults than kids who avoid the whole bullying scene.
This large-scale study, just published in Psychological Science, tracked over 1200 North Carolina children aged 9 to 13 in 1993. The children were rechecked every year until age 16, then again at ages 19, 21, and between ages 24 and 26. About 25% of the children reported being victims of bullies. Another 8% admitted to being bullies and 6% said they’d both been a bully and been a victim of bullies.
Researchers compared the health and success levels of children involved in bullying in any way to those not involved in bullying at all. They found that children involved in bullying were more likely to have financial problems, more likely to have difficulty getting and staying employed, and more likely to suffer from chronic illness like obesity, diabetes, cancer and severe asthma.
Victims of bullying – including those who were both bullies and victims – were at greatest risk. They were more likely that bullies to smoke, use marijuana, or to report that they were in poor health. In fact, victims were six times more likely to have serious problems with finances or employment, six times more likely to have serious health issues, and four times more likely to have been arrested on felony charges, even when the effects of family finances were taken into account.
Clearly, being the victim of a bully is a serious problem. It’s not just “normal kid stuff” that a person can outgrow and put behind him. If your child is being bullied – or if your child bullies others – it’s important to sit up and take notice.
- If your child complains about being bullied, take the complaint seriously. Don’t brush it off.
- Take action. Talk with the school, monitor what goes on in the neighborhood, even consider changing schools or moving. You’re not being overprotective when you stand up for your child.
- Consider getting your child counseling. Victims may need help to feel more confident and empowered. Bullies may need help to find alternative ways of interacting with others and to resolve issues that make bullying seem like a natural strategy.
- Let your child know that you take this seriously and you agree that bullying is not acceptable. Kids may blame themselves. They need to know that being a victim of bullying is not their fault.
Bullying and being the victim of a bully set up a child for a lifetime of struggle. It’s time to stop looking the other way but realize that bullying is serious business.
© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Developmentally Appropriate Parenting, at your favorite bookstore.