Being bullied can severely affect a child’s or teen's self-image, social interactions, or school performance, and can lead to mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, and substance use, and even suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
Signs that a child is being bulled may be physical, emotional, behavioral, social, or academic. Short- and long-term effects of bullying may include:
Youth who witness bullying, known as bystanders, can also be affected. Bystanders may feel guilty about their own inaction, may feel unsafe at school, and can also be at increased risk for depression, anxiety, drug abuse, and absenteeism from school.
Bullying and Trauma
Children or teens who have been exposed to trauma and violence may be more likely to:
- Bully others
- Be more distressed by bullying or appear desensitized to bullying
- Be the targets of bullying themselves
The relationship between trauma and bullying is complex. Being bullied can lead to traumatic stress reactions including Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. For example, a 2012 study (Idsoe, Dyregov, & Idsoe, 2012) found that for all students who experienced bullying, 27.6% of boys and 40.5% of girls had PTSD scores within the clinical range. Symptoms were even worse for those students who both bullied others and had been the targets of bullying themselves.
Children who have experienced trauma are more likely to be bullied and to engage in bullying behavior. In some cases, children who experience trauma may develop social or interpersonal difficulties, making them more likely to become targets of bullying. Studies of Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs, have found that children who report more ACEs are also more likely to exhibit bullying behavior (Sacks, et al., 2014).
Bullying and Labels
Although it is important to identify when a student is being bullied, the power of language can have unintended consequences. Instead of referring to “bullies” and “victims,” more appropriate language includes “the child who bullied another student” (rather than "the bully") or “the student who was bullied” (rather than “the victim”).
Simply labeling a student as a “bully” or “victim” can perpetuate
- a lack of hope or belief that there can be a change in behavior for someone who bullies or a change in the social-emotional impact that results from being bullied.
- labels that serve to define a youth’s role in the school community and society.
- a focus only on the individual without considering the external context in which the bullying occurred, such as in a school with a negative school climate or a home with domestic violence that can influence, perpetuate, and even shape behaviors between peers, students, and the adults on campus.