Bullying happens to about half of all children at some point in their lives. And at least 10 percent of kids experience it on a regular basis. It happens on playgrounds, in the hallways, and on countless social media sites daily.
Sure parents worry, but often we think our kids will get over it once that day, or week, or school year passes. Unfortunately, that's not the case. Bullying extends far beyond adolescence and can have lasting effects on your child's future relationships, health, and well-being. "Bullying is something that can change someone's life trajectory for years and years to come," says William Copeland, MD, an Associate Professor at the Duke University School of Medicine.
What's worse, it doesn't matter which side of the interaction children fall on. Whether they're a bully, a victim, or a bully-victim (a person who was bullied and also bullies others), bullying can scar them for life. This is why it's important for all parents to take part in the bullying conversation and start to take serious steps to make it stop.
Here's how bullying can affect your child later in life.
Children who are bullies ...
- Abuse drugs and alcohol. Uh-oh. If your kid is a bully now, according to a 2013 study published by the Association of Psychological Science, he'll be four times more likely to grow up into a liar, a drunk, a drug user, a cheater, and you may even be bailing him out of jail. "These individuals have much higher levels of criminal behaviors," says Copeland, the study's co-author.
- Might end up in a gang. Almost 10 percent of bullies grow up to have violent tendencies -- whether it's abusing spouses, kids, or animals, getting in bar-room brawls, acting out on road rage, or joining a gang, you get the idea. These former bullies also have problems following rules (from breaking the speed limit to committing felonies).
- Will be lifelong manipulators. The good news is: Bullies have a higher chance of really "coming out of everything 'unscathed,'" says Copeland. The bad news: Your child will manipulate people, take advantage of them, and avoid being caught when they do something wrong. Sure, they'll appear to be successful at work and in their social lives, but are these the signs of a happy, healthy person -- or anyone you would be proud of?
Children who are bullied ...
- Are more likely to suffer from anxiety and related disorders. Your grown child could be spending lots of time on therapists' couches and filling Xanax prescriptions. When a child is bullied often, she is constantly worried and stressed about what is going to happen next and when. As a result, Copleand says, her "stress response systems can become overheated," meaning that as an adult, she'll get stressed-out easily and she'll be overwhelmed by otherwise seemingly stress-less situations.
- Do worse in school and at work. Because of the stresses of being bullied, victims can't clearly focus on tasks at hand, especially in school, and they suffer academically. Along with bully-victims, they're less likely to finish high school or go to college. Boys who were bullied are more likely to end up unemployed, and they earn less than men who weren't bullied as boys.
- Get sick more often. According to a 50-year study, victims of bullying have poorer health at ages 23 and 50 and have more memory loss and senility by age 50.
- Have unhappy lives. Louise Arseneault, a lead researcher on a bullying study, says that children who were bullied "anticipated less life satisfaction in the years to come" as adults.
Kids who are both bullies and victims ...
- Are more likely to have panic attacks and suffer from depression. Similarly to children who were just victims, this group is more likely to have panic and anxiety disorders, caused by the stresses of being bullied. However, with the added layer of being bullies themselves, they are more likely to experience depression during adulthood.
- Might never leave the house -- literally. Girls who are bullied are more likely to grow up to be agoraphobic (an anxiety disorder where sufferers are so afraid of certain environments and situations that they avoid them). According to Copeland's study, these women were specifically uneasy in large spaces where "confrontations" are likely to have occurred.
- Are more likely to think about (and may attempt) committing suicide. What could be worse than knowing your child wants to end his life? Yet, this is often the case for boys who fell in the bully-victim category, according to Copeland. "They are not socially sophisticated and are much less adept in social situations." Thus, they'll suffer depression and panic disorders, and they can be more susceptible to suicidal thoughts.
- Have very lonely lives. Your child is less likely to get married (or stay that way) and won't have very many friends. They're more likely to be living alone in middle age, and they're less likely to have any social support if they become ill.
Any way you look at it, bullying can have a lasting and strong effect. "We need to start realizing that it's abuse," says Copeland. "And most of all, we need to be non-tolerant of it."
Have you or your child experienced bullying?
Image via Thomas Ricker/Flickr