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What Happens Over Time To Those Who Bully And Those Who Are Victimized?

By , and — Bullying Special Edition Contributor
Updated on Feb 11, 2009

There can be little question that the phenomenon of bullying has become a worldwide concern, drawing the attention of researchers, educators, policy makers, parents, and young people. After nearly 30 years of research, it is easy for researchers and educators to list the ill effects and negative consequences that go hand in hand with bullying. This brief article begins with a look at what we see as the short-term consequences of bullying before turning to the question of what happens over longer periods of time.

What are the Short-Term Outcomes of Bullying?

What Happens to Children Who Are Bullied?

  • This list for victimization is extensive and bleak including anxiety, loneliness, low self-esteem, poor social self-competence, depression, psychosomatic symptoms, social withdrawal, school refusal, school absenteeism, poor academic performance, physical health complaints, running away from home, alcohol and drug use, and suicide (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10).

What Happens to Children Who Bully?

  • Although there is some research linking bullying behaviour to seemingly positive social competencies, including being seen by the peer group to be powerful and popular (11) and showing high social intelligence (12). For the most part, however, bullying is much more commonly linked to difficulties.
  • Those who bully have been characterized as angry, depressed, aggressive, hostile, and domineering individuals who show high levels of externalizing (acting-out) and hyperactive behaviours with little fondness for school (11, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18) and high conflict within friendships (19). The risks for those students who are both bully and victim seem even greater (6).

Long-Term Effects of Bullying: Adults Looking Back on Childhood

Researchers have done a good job of describing the characteristics of bullies and victims and have tried to figure out what causes someone to bully or to be bullied and what short-term consequences result from these experiences. Researchers interested in adulthood have tried to understand the long-term effects of peer victimization by asking adults to recount school-age bullying experiences and looking to see whether these experiences can be connected to social and emotional adjustment.

  • Memories of childhood teasing are associated with high rates of depression, social anxiety, pathological perfectionism, and greater neuroticism in adulthood (20,21,22).
  • When you look at the content of how adults describe their childhood victimization experiences, it does appear that over time many victims report a reduction in their hurt feelings (for example, less unhappiness, decreased shame) (23).
  • Yet, for those who consider the bullying to be extremely painful, the troubling feelings continue with reported long-term negative effects on both personality and attitudes. In short, childhood bullying is a highly memorable experience and recollections of these events show no evidence of forgetting (24).

Long-Term Effects of Bullying: Following Children Forward in Time

Researchers and educators believe that peer victimization adversely affects a person’s development. But, what we do not know much about at this point is what happens to those who bully and/or those who are victimized over the long term.

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