Effects of bullying last into adulthood: Study 0
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"It Gets Better" may be a popular slogan for bullied kids, but new research paints a much drearier picture.
In a first-of-its kind, 16-year study, U.K. researchers have found that people who were bullied in childhood are more likely to have substance abuse problems, get sick, be lonely, be unemployed, get depressed, attempt suicide and struggle financially.
"It's more than a harmless rite of passage. It is a serious problem," said lead author Dieter Wolke, a developmental psychologist at the University of Warwick.
The study looked at 1,420 participants, interviewing them repeatedly between the ages of nine and 26. Even after taking into account factors like income, family history and psychiatric problems, bullying victims were six times more likely to pick up smoking, be diagnosed with a serious illness or develop a psychiatric disorder. What's more, they were twice as likely to have difficulty keeping a job or saving money.
And Wolke says it's not just that sickly or anxious kids are more likely to be the targets of bullying. Kids in the study with similar psychological problems who weren't bullied turned out just fine.
"What we found is it is exactly the bullying that made the difference," he said.
As for the bullies? After factoring in family problems and childhood psychiatric problems, common among bullies, their childhood taunting had no notable effects on their adult lives.
If anything, the bullies won.
"Those who are the pure bullies, the ones who don't get victimized by others, they seem to be strong and healthy children. It's really, in a way, sad," Wolke said.
"They're not just useless children who don't know what to do. They're quite good at understanding social relationships. They know how to manipulate them."
Wolke blames an "anything to get ahead is OK" attitude for the problem, noting that bullying is more prevalent in countries with bigger gaps between the rich and the poor.
"Bullying is merely one strategy to get access to more resources...pocket money, popularity, being known," he said.
Wolke said that if we want to deal with the dire consequences of bullying, health-care professionals need to pay more attention and ask questions specifically about peer relations.
"School intervention has some effect but, in general, the effects have been really small. So we have to think further."
The study was published in the journal Psychological Science.