The Effects of Bullying: Tips for Parents and Educators

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Bullying is a form of aggressive behavior where someone intentionally causes injury or discomfort. This behavior can be repeated, habitual, and can take many varying forms.

The American Society for the Care of Children reported that approximately:

  • 1 in every 3 children engage in bullying
  • 1 in every 3 have been victims of bullying
  • 7 in every 10 have been bystanders in a bullying situation
  • 7 in every 10 school staff has reported to witness bullying instances

Additional reports published by Scientific American indicate that victims of bullying are in particular risk for mental health problems including suicidal ideations and/or behavior. The article goes on to say that other children involved in bullying, including the perpetrator, are also at risk of mental health issues. While bullying affects the victim in a more acute sense, including a higher risk of suicide, it is paramount to adequately assess bullying situations given that bullying has a global effect.

The Shapes and Forms of Bullying

Although the aforementioned numbers may focus on instances of physical and emotional bullying among youth, other types of bullying exist — many of which can occur in the office or workplace among adults. Bullyingstatistics.org has identified the following types of bullying:

    • Verbal bullying: name-calling, teasing, and threats
    • Social bullying: spreading rumors and isolating someone
    • Physical bullying: hitting, pushing, and breaking someone’s possessions
    • Cyber bullying: spreading rumors on social media, and sending hurtful messages via electronic means of communication

Bullying can occur among adult populations and can impact the work environment as well as the mental health of the employees. Roughly 31 percent of adults have been a victim of bullying, a 2017 U.S. News & World Report finds. Contacting your HR department can become a route of action to address a bullying situation, especially in cases where a higher-ranking employee acts as the perpetrator.

Regardless of the shape bullying takes on, it can cause negative consequences to everyone involved. Often the best way to assist a potential victim is to be able to identify the warning sides, as well to understand the effects it may have on mental health and overall wellbeing.

The Effects & Warning Signs of Bullying

Bullying can be detrimental and lead to psychological effects, possibly hindering school performances. If you believe that someone is being bullied, there are some warning signs that parents, teachers, and friends can look for. This is particularly important for children who are potentially at risk.

Psychological Effects:

There have been numerous studies pertaining to the psychological effects of bullying. It is reported that victims of bullying have experienced:   

    • Increased depression symptoms, such as sadness, feeling alone, and worthlessness
    • Anxiety and excessive worry, which may lead to somatic symptoms such as stomachaches and headaches
    • Shame and low self-esteem
    • Possible self-destructive behavior (self-harm and/or suicidal tendencies)
    • Eating disorders (if the bullying is related to the victim’s weight)

School Effects:

A long-term study published 2017 by the Journal of Educational Psychology that followed children from kindergarten to high school found that children who are chronically bullied exhibit low academic achievement, display a strong dislike of school, and have less confidence in their academic abilities. Victims of bullying also experience:

    • Decreased academic achievement, which includes attaining lower grades and test scores
    • Not wanting to go to school, thus skipping classes and dropping out

Warning Signs:

Stopbullying.gov highlighted a few warnings signs:

  • Unexplainable injuries
  • Eating problems, such as bingeing or not eating
  • Sleeping problems, such as nightmares or difficulty with sleep
  • A drop in academic performance, including refusing to go to school
  • Self-harm and/or running away from home

Research from 2013 U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education illustrates that children will not notify bullying to adults due to feeling hopeless, fear of retaliation, and rejection, among other reasons.

At-Risk Children:

Being able to identify children who could be at risk of being a target of bullying is vital for early intervention. It has been reported that children who are labeled as “different” by their peers tend to be victims of bullying. The at-risk population includes:

      • Children who are overweight
      • Those who wear glasses
      • Children with an accent, lisp, or stutter
      • Those who their peers perceive as less popular
      • Those who their peers perceive as being weak or with low self-esteem

Tips for Parents and Teachers

Despite the low intervention from bystanders, the American Society for the Care of Children reports that bystanders’ intervention stops the bullying instance in about two-thirds of the time. Many students do not report bullying as reasons mentioned above. Therefore, fostering an open line of communication between the students and the parents, relatives, teachers and school staff, and members of the community can encourage the child to approach adults and proactively address the situation.

The American Psychological Association strongly recommends that teachers must be observant and acknowledge incidents, involve students and parents, and set positive expectations about behaviors for students and adults. Parents need to observe for signs of children being bullied, teach children how to handle being bullied, and set boundaries with technology. Parents of kids engaged in bullying also must stop bullying before it starts, make homes “bully free,” and look for self-esteem problems.

(Co-authors include Dr. Mercado’s Mental Health Lab at UTRGV: Abigail Nunez-Saenz, Andy Torres, Jose Garcia, Paola Salazar, Maria Sevilla-Matos, and Stephanie Arellano)