Bullying has been a high-profile issue in the media lately, but it’s been on the radars of therapists, counselors, and psychologists for far longer. A number of studies have been published over the last few years that examine the consequences of bullying not just for bullying victims, but also for the bullies themselves. While children who bully seem to be those in control of the bully-victim relationship, it’s often a result of poor relationships and problems in other areas of that child’s life. One 2008 study showed that kids whose parents are “demanding, directive and unresponsive” are the most likely to enact bullying toward others. Another study from that same year found that students who bully their classmates are far more likely to have strained relationships with parents, siblings and even their own friends.
The consequences of bullying are well-established and are, interestingly, very similar for both bullies and victims of bullying. Both are far more likely to need to find a therapist in their teen and adult years, as both run a high risk of depression, anxiety, and other psychological and emotional struggles later in life. Cyber-bullying is the single exception to this: in the case of cyber-bullies, victims are at higher risk of depression, but perpetrators are not. The anonymity of the internet may make bullies feel safer in their behavior, and make victims feel more isolated and alone. Without intervention and support, bullies are likely to become anti-social as adults, too.
In fact, even before bullying behavior surfaces, both bullies and victims have something else in common: they’re likely to be students who have particularly poor problem-solving skills, especially in social situations. Often, victims of bullying go on to target other vulnerable students in an effort to feel less victimized themselves. The tragedy of this is that kids on both side of the bullying aren’t getting the help they need. Those students who inflict distress on others rarely do so for the sake of being mean; they’re reacting from a place of fear themselves because their own emotional, social, and psychological needs aren’t being met. And those students who are victims of bullying often go unnoticed until the behavior results in something tragic. More awareness and support are necessary if we are to create truly safe environments for students, both in school and out.
© 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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