Well, of course you’re worried. If your kid is being picked on, that’s a serious thing. You don’t want your child to be made unhappy or feel rejected by his so-called friends. Being bullied is a big deal.
But a new study conducted in Great Britain and published recently by the American Journal of Psychiatry suggests that being bullied is a bigger deal than most people thought. Some adults believe that a certain amount of bullying is part of normal kid-interactions. Many people think that the effects of bullying go away as kids get older and find different friends to hang out with. But this isn’t so. According to this new research, being bullied as a child leads to poor outcomes when those kids become adults.
Here’s how this study worked. In 1958, over 7700 parents in England, Scotland and Wales were asked to comment of the level of bullying experienced by their children ages 7 to 11. The children were then followed until age 50. Researchers found that 28% of children were bullied occasionally and 15% were bullied frequently – rates of bullying similar in the United Kingdom today.
They then found that those children who were bullied were more likely to be in poor health, to have mental health issues, and to have lower intelligence at age 50 than people who were not bullied as children. Adults who were victimized by bullies in childhood were more likely to be depressed, have anxiety disorders, be unemployed, have less education and earn less money than adults who were not bullied as children. These harmful effects were evident even when the study held constant other factors like childhood IQ, parents’ socioeconomic status, parenting style, and children’s pre-existing emotional or behavioral problems. Overall, being bullied as a child derails a person’s future in multiple ways, even in the absence of other factors than might also get in the way.
This is not to say, of course, that every child who is bullied ends up as an unhappy, unsuccessful grownup. Keep in mind that research tells what’s generally true, not what’s always true in individual cases. If your child has been bullied, she is not destined to despair. But at the same time, this study points up the importance of intervention as bullying is going on and intervention later to get a teen who was bullied in elementary school back on track.
If bullying is going on for your child or other children you know, here are some things to do.
- Pay attention, don’t ignore things. Even if bullying goes away, the effects can linger. Stop bullying as soon as you realize it’s happening.
- Take action by insisting the school take charge. Even if bullying is happening in the neighborhood, there’s a good chance that it’s also evident at your child’s school.
- Avoid blaming your child for being a victim. Being bullied isn’t the fault of the child on the receiving end. There is little he did to make this happen to him and little he can do to make the bullying stop. Supporting your child means not expecting him to solve this on his own.
- Don’t be a bully yourself. The adult effects of childhood bullying mirror the adult effects of harsh parenting at home. Your child needs to feel safe. That can’t happen if things are falling apart in your family or if you are verbally or physically abusive with your kids.
- If your child seems to need professional help to overcome the effects of being picked on, then find a way to provide that. Helping your teen get things back on track after an experience of being bullied as a child is essential to her future happiness.
Lead researcher Ryu Takizawa says this study shows that “the effects of bullying are still visible nearly four decades later. The impact of bullying is persistent and pervasive, with health, social and economic consequences lasting well into adulthood.”
If your child is being bullied, get busy.
© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.