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Bullies do long-term damage to themselves, as well as victims

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 4 2012 12:55 a.m. MST

The bullies themselves suffer adverse effects, too, including "long-term socio-emotional and physical health consequences." They are more likely to abuse substances, they don't develop strong social skills and they have a higher rate of mental health problems. They, like their victims, are more likely to have aggressive-impulsive behaviors as adults.

Boys and girls are different

There are gender differences in how it's done, say Peter K. Smith and Sonia Sharp, authors of "School Bullying: Insights and Perspectives." Old-school thought was boys were physical and girls verbal. It's more accurate to conclude, though, that boys are more direct in their bullying, while girls are indirect, they say. And that quite likely means the incidence of bullying by girls is less likely to be spotted by those who could intervene.

Experts also note that adults trying to intervene sometimes punish the victim, rather than the perpetrator of bullying. That's particularly true with girls, since the aggressors are often viewed as the "good girls" or "popular" ones.

Among boys, a well-documented link also exists between bullying and crime: 60 percent of boys who were bullies in middle school and high school have been convicted of at least one crime by age 25. They are also more likely to become violent over time and continue to bully, taking it into the workplace and family relationships.

The group that fares the worst are the children who have been bullied and then bully others, experts agree.

It's a social problem with a range of degrees, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which calls bullying a public health issue. That's clear when you ask people about experiences within their families. Consider these real Salt Lake-area cases, the names changed at the request of parents interviewed for this story.

"Spring," 9, was told by her supposed best friend that a boy she likes thinks she's "ugly." It makes her sad and she doesn't want to go back to her third-grade class.

Someone posted on Facebook a picture "Lonni" didn't know was taken with a camera phone on a school bus and scores of her schoolmates added comments that range from snarky to vicious. When someone pointed it out to her, she was devastated. The taunting followed her to school, as well.

"Greg and Ruth" finally gave up after two years of watching their teenage daughter be alternately taunted and ostracized by a group of girls in the neighborhood. Requests for school officials to help didn't resolve it; much of the bullying just moved online where school officials said they couldn't do anything. Eventually, the family moved to a new neighborhood, selling the home they'd loved just to escape. "You have no idea how nasty kids can be," Greg said.

"When a family moves because of a bully, the bitter irony is, as we've seen in the majority of cases, this child will be bullied again," notes Champions' Lee Rachel Faith, director of operations. The adults need to figure out what's happening and address the issue with the bully, the target and the bystanders who are watching the show — whether they're enjoying it or not — and failing to intervene, she adds.

Fighting back

Bullying has made headlines nationwide with high-profile cases that resulted in suicides. The link has become common enough for a new term to emerge: bullycide.

There are lots of resources to help parents, including Champions (www.championsagainstbullying.com/), the CDC and youth safety organizations. The CDC's recommendations for school-based prevention include better supervision of students, use of school rules to detect bullying and provide consequences, consistent enforcement of a whole-school anti-bullying policy and collaboration between experts, staff and parents.

EMAIL: lois@desnews.com; Twitter: Loisco

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