The consequences of bullying are significant and can have a lasting impact. Efforts to advocate on behalf of victims will not be effective unless people truly comprehend how painful and traumatic bullying can be. Here is an overview of the effects of bullying and how victims can recover:
Social and Emotional Impact
Kids who are regularly targeted by people who bully often suffer both emotionally and socially. Not only do they find it hard to make friends, but they also struggle to maintain healthy friendships. Part of this struggle is directly related to low self-esteem. A lack of self-esteem is a direct result of the mean and hurtful things that other kids say about them. When kids are continually called "fat" or "losers," they begin to believe these things are true.
Bullying victims also tend to experience a wide range of emotions. They may feel angry, bitter, vulnerable, helpless, frustrated, lonely, and isolated from their peers. Consequently, they may skip classes and resort to drugs and alcohol to numb their pain. And if bullying is on-going, they may develop depression and even contemplate suicide
If no intervention takes place, eventually kids can develop what is known as "learned helplessness." Learned helplessness means that the targets of bullying believe that they cannot do anything to change the situation. As a result, they stop trying. Then, the cycle down into depression becomes more severe. This leads to a feeling of hopelessness and the belief that there is no way out. As bullied kids grow into adults, they may continue to struggle with self-esteem, have difficulty developing and maintaining relationships, and avoid social interactions. They also may have a hard time trusting people, which can impact their personal relationships and their work relationships.
Aside from the bumps and bruises that occur during physical bullying, there are additional physical costs. For instance, bullied kids often experience anxiety . This stress on their bodies also will result in a variety of health issues, including being sick more often and suffering from ulcers and other conditions caused by persistent anxiety.
Kids who are bullied often suffer academically, too. Bullied kids struggle to focus on their schoolwork. In fact, slipping grades is one of the first signs that a child is being bullied. Kids also may be so pre-occupied by bullying that they forget about assignments or have difficulty paying attention in class. Additionally, bullied kids may skip school or classes in order to avoid being bullied. This practice also can result is falling grades. And when grades begin to drop this adds to the stress levels the bullied child is already experiencing.
A study conducted by the University of Virginia showed that kids who attend a school with a severe climate of bullying often have lower scores on standardized tests. Bullying even impacts students who witness it.
For instance, kids scored lower on standardized tests in schools with a lot of bullying than kids in schools with effective anti-bullying programs. One possible reason for the lower scores in schools with pervasive bullying is that students are often less engaged in the learning process because they are too distracted by or worried about the bullying.
Additionally, teachers may be less effective because they must spend so much time focused on classroom management and discipline instead of teaching. 5 The good news is with proper support and intervention, most kids targeted by bullies will overcome bullying and things will get back to normal. But left unchecked, bullying can cause the victim to pay a high cost in long-term consequences.
Impact on Family
When a child is bullied, it is not uncommon for the parents and siblings to also be affected. Parents often experience a wide range of consequences including feeling powerless to fix the situation. They also may feel alone and isolated. And they may even become obsessed with the situation often at the expense of their own health and wellbeing.It also is not uncommon for parents to feel a sense of failure when their child is bullied.
Not only do they feel like they failed to protect the child from bullying, but they also may question their parenting abilities. They may even worry that they somehow missed the signs of bullying or that they did not do enough to bully-proof their child along the way.
The truth is that no one can predict who bullies will target. Parents can do everything right and still find out that their child is being bullied. As a result, they should never feel responsible for the choices a bully makes. Instead, they should place the blame where it belongs and focus on helping their child heal from bullying.
Long-Term Effects and Healing
Research shows that the effects of bullying last well into adulthood. In fact, one study found that the consequences of being bullied by peers may have a greater impact on mental health in adulthood than originally thought.6 What's more, the impact may be even more significant than being mistreated by adults.
Remember, the experiences that people have while they are children help mold them into the adults that they later become. So it is not surprising that the effects of bullying linger well into adulthood. This then helps to influence their future mindset, including how they view themselves and others.
How Kids Can Heal
When a child is bullied, the road to recovery may be more challenging than you might originally think. In fact, the effects of bullying can stick around long after the bullying has ended.6 Moreover, if bullying is not addressed right away, then it can cause problems for your child later in life.
In order for your child to heal from bullying, there are several important steps you must take. These include not only changing the way your children think about the situation, but also how they view themselves after being bullied.
It's also important to help your child find closure for the situation. And as counterintuitive as it sounds, forgiving the bully goes a long way in freeing your child from the pain of the experience. Remind them that revenge will not make them feel better. Instead, they should let go of what happened to them and focus on the things they can control in their life.
Having a counselor help your child with the recovery process may speed things along. Talk to your child's pediatrician for suggestions about who to contact in your area.