I hate to admit it, but I was a bully. It hurts to think about it, so I can only imagine how much it likely affects the two individuals who were victims of my bullying. This is especially true after reading a study by Kings College in London which shows the impact of childhood bullying can still be evident after 40 years. The study is the first to look at the effects of bullying beyond early adulthood.
The findings come from the British National Child Development Study which includes data on all children born in England, Scotland and Wales during one week in 1958. The study published includes 7,771 children whose parents provided information on their child’s exposure to bullying when they were aged 7 and 11. The children were then followed up until the age of 50. I find it fascinating they had the foresight to begin collecting various data on children and followed them for over 50 years.
The damage to those who were bullied are extensive, affecting nearly every aspect of their life. Individuals who were bullied in childhood were more likely to have poorer physical and psychological health and cognitive functioning at age 50. They were at an increased risk of depression, anxiety disorders, and suicidal thoughts. They were also more likely to have lower educational levels. Men who were bullied were more likely to be unemployed and earn less. Social relationships and well-being were also affected. Individuals who had been bullied were less likely to be in a relationship, to have good social support, and were more likely to report lower quality of life and life satisfaction.
One of the boys I bullied when I was in middle school in Pennsylvania and the other was when I was in Junior High in North Carolina. I can’t remember their names or what they looked like, but I do recall the results of my actions. During a snowstorm in Pennsylvania, the boy’s father pulled his car over beside me as I was walking and tore into me.
The repercussions of tormenting the boy in high school had a much bigger impact on me. Our coach caught wind of my actions and slammed me into a wall in the locker room. I have a lot of respect for him, so it still stings when I remember him saying, “I use to like you,” Of course, no coach would do the same today out of fear of a lawsuit and dismissal. But it was effective. I was so ashamed I never told anyone of the incident until now.
Professor Louise Arseneault, senior author, from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s adds.
We need to move away from any perception that bullying is just an inevitable part of growing-up. Teachers, parents and policy-makers should be aware that what happens in the school playground can have long-term repercussions for children. Programs to stop bullying are extremely important, but we also need to focus our efforts on early intervention to prevent potential problems persisting into adolescence and adulthood. 40 years is a long time, so there will no doubt be additional experiences during the course of these young people’s lives which may either protect them against the effects of bullying, or make things worse. Our next step is to investigate what these are.
While childhood bullying can seriously affect the mental health of its victims, it is also associated with significant mental health problems for the bully, according to a study conducted at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island
In the study presented in 2012, at the national conference of the American Association of Pediatrics, Dr. Frances Turcotte-Benedict reported that children diagnosed with mental illness, including depression, are three times more likely to bully than children without disorders. I’m not going to try and slither out of my actions by blaming my mental condition. What I do remember is that I liked the attention it gave me, and I mistakenly thought it would gain me friends at a time in my life that I was certain no one liked me.
While it may be difficult to have compassion for bullies, I agree with Turcotte-Benedict, that it is important to continue further study to understand what goes on in the mind of a bully. She said,
In order to create successful anti-bullying prevention and intervention programs, there certainly is a need for more research to understand the relationship more thoroughly and especially the risk profile of childhood bullies.
If you’d like additional information about preventing bullying, you can go to the website www.stopbullying.gov