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The Consequences of Bullying

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Updated April 06, 2011

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Bullying happens more than you may realize. In the United States, it is estimated that between 15 to 25% of students are frequently bullied. So, what is bullying? Bullying is considered a repeated and intentional act of aggression where one or more people plan to harm or upset another person physically, verbally, or psychologically.

  • Examples of physical bullying include hitting, kicking, pushing, or the taking of something that belongs to someone else.

  • Examples of verbal bullying include teasing, name-calling, or threatening.

  • Examples of psychological bullying include gossiping about someone or intentionally ignoring, excluding, or isolating them.

With the rise of the internet and mobile phones -- and the extent to which young people use this technology in their daily lives, cyberbullying has also increased. Cyberbulling can include sending mean texts or emails or posting inappropriate or upsetting pictures.

What Are The Effects of Bullying?

Being the victim of bullying can have a tremendous negative impact. Numerous studies on the effects of bullying have found that victims of bullying may be more:

  • withdrawn
  • depressed
  • anxious
  • insecure
  • shy
  • uninvolved with others
  • lonely
  • isolated
  • avoidant of school, places, or activities

Is Being Bullied a Traumatic Event?

Given the negative effects of bullying, some have questioned whether bullying could be considered a traumatic event that could lead to the development of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). According to the 4th version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a traumatic event that can lead to PTSD must meet the following criteria:

  1. The person experienced, witnessed, or was confronted with an event where there was the threat of or actual death or serious injury. The event may also have involved a threat to the person's physical well-being or the physical well-being of another person.
  2. The person responded to the event with strong feelings of fear, helplessness or horror.

So, in severe cases of bullying, it is very possible that these conditions could be met, setting the stage for the development of PTSD symptoms. However, other cases of bullying, although definitely stressful, may not be considered traumatic.

Where To Go For Help

When it comes to bullying, adults are often unaware of bullying problems with their children. One study found that almost three quarters of teachers believe that they should almost always intervene when it comes to bullying. However, only one quarter of their students agreed with this. Therefore, when it comes to bullying it is very important to know what to look for and how to intervene. Fortunately, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has developed a website for both children and adults on bullying called Stop Bullying Now!. This website is an excellent resource that provides tips on how to identify, cope with, and stop bullying. The About.com Guide to Pediatrics also provides information on bullying.

Sources:

Charach, A., Pepler, D., & Ziegler, S. (1995). Bullying at school--a Canadian perspective: A survey of problems and suggestions for intervention. Education Canada, 35, 12-18

Craig, W.M. (1998). The relationship among bullying, victimization, depression, anxiety, and aggression in elementary school children. Personality and Individual Differences, 24, 123-130.

Nansel, T.R., Overpeck, M., Pilla, R.S., Ruan, W.J., Simons-Morton, B., & Scheidt, P. (2001). Bullying behaviors among U.S. youth: Prevalence and association with psychological adjustment. Journal of the American Medical Association, 285, 2094-2100.

Perry, D.G., Kusel, S.J., & Perry, L.C. (1988). Victims of peer aggression. Developmental Psychology, 24, 807-814.

Schwartz, D. (2000). Subtypes of victims and aggressors in children's peer groups. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 28, 181-192.

Veenstra, R., Lindenberg, S., Oldehinkel, A.J., De Winter, A.F., Verhulst, F.C., & Ormel, J. (2005). Bullying and victimization in elementary schools: A comparison of bullies, victims, bully/victims, and uninvolved preadolescents. Developmental Psychology, 41, 672-682.

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