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Bullying

The Ripple Effect of Bullying

The negative consequences go beyond psychological distress.

Key points

  • Bullying is considered a type of youth violence and adverse childhood experience that entails any unwanted aggressive behavior.
  • One in five high school students reported being bullied on school campuses, and one in six reported being the target of cyberbullying.
  • Despite the significant impact that bullying can have on children and adolescents, society in general views it as a tolerable behavior.

Each day, thousands of young people are exposed to physical and cyberbullying, both at school and after school, in their neighborhoods, and sometimes even in their own homes. In the United States, the problem of bullying has escalated to serious concern, leading to the designation of October as National Bullying Prevention Month.

During the past year, one in five high school students reported being bullied on school campuses, and one in six reported being the target of cyberbullying, which includes harassment via text and social media channels.

Regardless of the medium in which young people may experience it, bullying is considered a type of youth violence and adverse childhood experience that entails any unwanted aggressive behavior by another youth or groups, not including siblings or dating partners, and that involves a perceived power imbalance experienced multiple times (CDC, 2021).

In addition, bullying may lead to harm or distress inflicted upon the targeted youth, extending beyond the psychological realm to include the physical, social, and educational domains. Some of the most common forms of bullying include hitting, kicking, tripping, verbal threats, name-calling, and teasing. In the social domain, it may involve spreading rumors and leaving someone out of a group, as well as damaging victims’ property (CDC, 2021).

Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock
Source: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

Unfortunately, some young people may experience bullying more than others. For example, nearly 40 percent of high school students who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual are a target of bullying at school or electronically, compared with 22 percent of their heterosexual peers. Furthermore, the 2020 statistics for female teens showed a higher incidence of bullying (30 percent) when compared to males (19 percent) of the same age group.

The negative consequences of bullying

Bullying can exacerbate existing mental health challenges. Sadly, bullying has negative short and long-term consequences for children and adolescents who have experienced it directly, as well as for those who have been exposed indirectly as witnesses. Youth who have been exposed to bullying can endure detrimental psychological, physical, and academic effects. The psychological manifestations of being bullied involve depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, self-harming behaviors, alcohol and drug use, as well as aggression.

Cyberbullying cannot be ignored either, inasmuch as children and adolescents nowadays are spending more time on their computers and mobile devices than ever before. Children who have been exposed to cyberbullying report an increased level of depression, suicidal thoughts, and overall emotional distress (SAMHSA, 2017).

Some of the physical effects of bullying are noticeable, such as being injured from a physical attack. However, there are other effects that cannot be as easily identified, such as ongoing stress and trauma. For example, a young person who is being bullied may experience difficulty sleeping, stomachaches, headaches, bedwetting, and dizziness. The high levels of cortisol in the body associated with prolonged exposure to resulting stress may impact the immune system and hormones.

Similarly, the effects of bullying can have a negative impact on the academic performance of children and adolescents as they experience difficulties concentrating resulting from the lack of sleep, persistent concern related to the abuser, or fear of another attack. Low motivation from associated depression is also a concern.

Although research on the effects of bullying on witnesses is limited, some studies have suggested that bullying witnesses experience anxiety and insecurity because they fear retaliation (SAMHSA, 2017).

Unfortunately, despite the significant impact that bullying can have on children and adolescents, society in general views it as a tolerable behavior. The misconceptions that characterize bullying can also lead to others’ minimizing the impact of the behavior.

Some of the common myths associated with bullying include:

  • Myth 1: Bullying is a natural part of childhood.
  • Myth 2: Words will never hurt you.
  • Myth 3: Bullying will make kids tougher.
  • Myth 4: Boys will be boys.
  • Myth 5: Girls don’t bully.
  • Myth 6: Children and youth who bully are mostly loners with few social skills.
  • Myth 7: Bullied kids need to learn how to deal with bullying on their own.
  • Myth 8: Ignoring bullying will make it go away.
  • Myth 9: Bullying is easily recognized.
  • Myth 10: Cyberbullying is less harmful because it does not happen face-to-face.

Major takeaways

Bullying is preventable, but it is imperative that awareness of misconceptions about it is raised. The more we learn as a society about the factors that put our youth at risk for this form of violence, the better we will be able to prevent it.

We should also be mindful of the interconnectivity of different types of violence, inasmuch as they often share common roots. Thus, by preventing bullying, we might help prevent other forms of violence.

References

National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, CDC 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/youthviolence/bullyingresearch/fastfact.html

Preventing bullying through science, policy, and practice, SAMHSA 2017

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