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“Children who experience bullying are often in the same league as all people who suffer harassment, abuse, trauma, and violence. Being a victim doesn’t ‘toughen up’ a child; instead it often causes lasting psychological injury and illness.”
– Malcom L. Smith, Ph.D. (2010, p. 7)

As we’ve outlined throughout this chapter, the consequences of bullying go far beyond hurt feelings. All across the country, bullying is exacting a severe toll on our nation’s youth, with serious consequences that can last a lifetime. Here’s a quick review of the costs that bullying exacts on our children and our society:

The psychological consequences of bullying

  • Bullied children exhibit a significant drop in self-esteem which generally lasts well into adulthood.
  • Bullied youth are more likely to experience and struggle with negative emotions on a day-by-day basis.
  • Rates of depression among bullied youth are 5 times those of their non-bullied peers.
  • Bullying causes psychological strain for children who aren’t even involved. Many kids do not like the bullying but feel helpless to intervene, which leads to feelings of guilt, anger, shame and sadness for non-victims who feel caught in the middle.

The social consequences of bullying

  • Bullied children display impaired social functioning well into adulthood.
  • Bullies display higher rates of criminality and other maladaptive social patterns as adults.
  • Studies show that much like family child abuse, these tendencies are often intergenerational: Parents pass these maladaptive tendencies onto their own kids, having children who are more likely to bully.

The educational consequences of bullying

  • Bullying causes stress that interferes with memory formation and learning, leading to serious academic consequences for both the bullied child as well as for kids in the general environment.
  • It can contribute to school tardiness and drop-outs, and many young adults specifically cite bullying as the reason they dropped out of school.
  • Bullying, since it generally occurs at school, can detrimentally alter a child’s view of learning or academics in general, causing them to change their plans for something as important as pursuing higher education.

The health consequences of bullying

  • Bullied children tend to endure chronic stress environments. This ongoing stress is known to cause many adverse health effects; everything from increased susceptibility towards illness to future heart disease and cell death or shrinkage of matter in certain parts of the brain.
  • Bullied children may suffer a variety of different psychosomatic symptoms (physical ailments caused by psychological distress), including chronic headaches or stomach aches.

The life and death consequences of bullying

  • Bullying leads to a 700-900% increase in the risk of suicidal thoughts and around a fourfold risk increase in suicide attempts. Bullying is directly related to many hundreds – possibly even thousands – of youth deaths each year.
  • Bullying contributes to school violence and school shootings, with one investigation finding that it played a role in two-thirds of the school shooting incidents studied.

All told, bullying has profound consequences that can last a lifetime, or in some cases, eliminate a young life altogether. How does this stack up against other forms of child abuse? Lets take a look.

A) The “ingredients” or core elements that go into bullying (social pain, rejection, humiliation, etc.) have been shown to induce the highest physiological stress response. Decades of research indicate these things are likely to be the most profoundly destructive sources of psychological distress.

B) The rates of symptoms like teen suicide, emotional problems or depression in bullied youth as compared to non-bullied peers are at least equal to – and in many cases substantially exceed – the rates of negative outcomes seen in children who experience other types of abuse, such as physical abuse, sexual abuse, or exposure to violence in the home. (GCF, 2012)

The ripple effect of bullying throughout our society

It’s difficult to quantify the full scope of bullying and the ripple effect that is has throughout our society. Garbarino & deLara (2002, p. 62) comment that “As adults, we must examine the impact of a bus ride filled with fighting or verbal abuse on our children’s sense of safety. What are the consequences that carry over to the next school day? How aware are school personnel that kids are arriving at school already distressed, based on what they have experienced during the bus ride? Kids should not have to run the gauntlet before and after their school day. Yet millions are subjected directly to abusive behavior on the bus, while countless others participate as silent observers.” The ripple effects that bullying has throughout a youth’s life – not to mention the implications for society as a whole as these kids, who are conditioned towards abusive social interaction become adults – are difficult to quantify.

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