The problem of bullying in elementary, middle school, and high school settings—whether during the school day, after school, or online—is gaining increasing attention. And the more we learn about it, the more serious the problem seems. Many past studies have documented that victims of bullying are more likely to be depressed and anxious, both during adolescence and as they grow into adults. They may be less confident, less outgoing, and struggle with mental health problems throughout their lives. Research has also shown that bullies themselves are likely to struggle socially; trouble fitting in with peers is often part of why they act out and victimize others, as a way to feel that they are more socially secure than someone else is.
Now, new research shows that bullying doesn’t just harm mental health: it has a direct correlation with academic performance. Middle schools surveyed about their own and their peers’ bullying experience. Those students identified as the most-victimized (both self-identified and identified by others) had consistently lower grades, classroom involvement, and school attendance than their peers. When students feel bullied by their schoolmates, they harbor more negative feelings about school in general. They are less likely to attend, less likely to participate in class, and less likely to feel motivated to achieve and feel proud of themselves. To teachers unaware of the bullying, these behaviors may appear to reflect a lack of motivation or an unwillingness to learn.
The problem is cyclical, note the study’s authors. Once students start performing lower, they are more likely to be picked on as a result. Dealing with childhood bullying is no easy task. Both bully victims and bully perpetrators can benefit from counseling to work through their feelings of social isolation, confidence, and (often) depression. But beyond that, parents, teachers and school staff need to know what to look for to identify bullying and to help students establish healthier social dynamics and standards, including reporting bullying that they witness amongst their peers.
© Copyright 2010 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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