Study Finds Bullying More Damaging Than Abuse, Neglect

Forlorn boy leans his head against a brick wallAccording to a 2014 report by the CDC, between one in three and one in four students has experienced bullying. This bullying epidemic isn’t just a normal part of childhood development, though. Research suggests bullying can lead to a host of problems, including depression, substance abuse, unexplained aches and pains, and poor academic performance. A new study that will be published in The Lancet Psychiatry has added to the pile of data addressing the evils of bullying, suggesting that children who are bullied by their peers may fare worse than those who are abused or neglected by adult caregivers.

Is Bullying More Harmful Than Abuse?

Researchers gathered data on 4,000 child abuse victims between 8 weeks and 8 years of age in the United Kingdom. The participants also provided data on experiences with bullying at the ages of 8, 10, and 13. Researchers also gathered bullying reports on almost 1,500 9- to 16-year-olds in the United States.

Researchers found that children who were bullied by other children were 500% more likely to experience anxiety than children who were abused by adults. They were also 200% more likely to hurt themselves, and more likely to develop depression. The effects of bullying lingered long after other risk factors, such as parental health problems or family challenges, disappeared. 

How Parents Can Help 

Few parents relish the idea of their children being bullied, but it’s not always easy to properly intervene. Vicki Botnick, MA, MS, LMFT, in Tarzana, California, told that determining the scope and nature of the bullying is an important first step. “There’s a big difference between the normal drama that goes on between middle schoolers, for instance, and the kind of bullying that’s likely to leave long-lasting scars, which might include hitting, threats made over social media, or systematically excluding your child from group events,” she explained. Botnick added that parents should begin by coaching children on how to respond to the bullying, since teaching kids how to deal with bullies teaches important conflict-resolution skills. If the bullying persists, though, Botnick advises involving school authorities. “If bullying is happening on their turf, technically it’s their responsibility to solve the problem. Ask the school what their policy is and encourage them to step in,” she said. Many states require schools to establish clear anti-bullying policies. For details about laws in your area, click here.

Grace Malonai, PhD, LPCC, from Walnut Creek, California, says that parents can help counteract the effects of bullying by encouraging strong self-concepts. “Parents can assist children’s development of strong self-concept by teaching them to recognize their own strengths and positive traits. This could be as simple as pointing out traits and strengths as [parents] notice them, saying something like, ‘You are a deep thinker,’ or ‘You are someone who likes to make complex Lego creations.’ Short phrases like these, even if verbally dismissed at the time by the child, can have a lasting and deep-seated, positive effect. It’s also a good idea to seek professional help if the problems worsen or do not subside,” she said.


  1. Bullying may take bigger toll than child abuse, neglect. (2015, April 28). Retrieved from
  2. Effects of bullying. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  3. Facts about bullying. (n.d.). Retrieved from

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  • Leave a Comment
  • Toby

    May 4th, 2015 at 3:55 PM

    You can always walk away from a hit, but the sting of those harsh words and actions of a bully last longer than any bruise you can get.

  • Orphan Izzy

    May 9th, 2015 at 1:51 PM

    I believe that you can be bullied as an adult as well which has happened to me by my sister when I was about 30, and in my case it led to emotional abuse and neglect by my parents to open till then had been loving and supportive and very involved in my life. They try to insist that I can’t let anybody affect me or my life like my sister has and I try to explain that bullying is a real issue which is why we have laws about harassment and stalking. Sometimes you can’t help letting someone’s abuse of you affect your life no matter how much help you get or what you do to stop it.

  • tim

    May 11th, 2015 at 10:35 AM

    No matter what, either is going to be bad to place upon the shoulders of any kid.

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