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The Emotional Toll of Bullying

by Anita Gurian, PhD

Parents, schools and mental health professionals have become increasingly aware that bullying is a pervasive problem and that its negative effects on the bully, the victim and the school atmosphere are considerable. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 50% of children are bullied and l0% are victims of bullying on a regular basis. A number of children and adolescents have reported that they suffered side effects of bullying - a drop in grades, an increase in anxiety, a loss of social life.

Two studies that corroborate these reports that bullying can cause emotional as well as physical harm were published in the Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology¹ in 2005 , In one study, the researchers found that kids who were victimized were physically sick (headaches and stomachaches) more often and had were absent from school more often than their peers. Results of another study involving almost 2,000 sixth-graders of primarily low income families, showed that victims of bullying experienced more depression and physical illness, missed more school and experienced more depression and physical illness than their peers. In addition, their school performance tended to be poorer. The specific bullying acts reported in these studies were name-calling and physical aggression such as kicking and shoving. Bullying also comes in other forms – it can be a physically aggressive attack or a psychologically aggressive attack such as social isolation, exclusion or nonselection.

These studies add to the growing signs that schools and parents need to take more action to counteract bullying.

Talk About Teasing and Bullying with Your Kids

Be a role model that conveys an attitude of respect for all persons. Talk about teasing and bullying with your kids. Watch for bullying and teasing occurring in television programs, books and movies, and encourage discussions with leading questions such as "How do you think that person felt? What else could have been done?"

Take action. Parents may not intervene in situations because they believe that children will learn to work things out by themselves. Kids can't always do that, especially when the bully is older, stronger, and more powerful. Let your children know adults can help them in these situations.

If your child is a victim:

  • Assure your child that he or she is not to blame.
  • Don't encourage bullying victims to fight back physically; instead suggest that they walk away to avoid the bully, pair up with a buddy, or that they seek help from an adult.
  • Help your child practice how to react the next time he or she is bullied.

If you think your child is a bully:

  • Make it clear that you will not tolerate bullying behavior.
  • Discuss possible reasons for bullying behavior.
  • Arrange for a non-violent consequence of bullying behavior.
  • Confer with your child's teacher and other school staff and increase supervision of his/her activities.

Teach assertiveness and build confidence in your child's ability to handle difficult situations.

Keep computers in a family room, and monitor your child's internet activities. Bullying can take form of vicious text messages, hateful rumors posted in chat rooms, on bulletin boards and on blogs.

Work with the school to make sure each child is safe, that bullies are reprimanded in an appropriate manner, that monitoring at school is adequate and steps are taken to spread anti-bullying messages. Children should not be expected to handle bullies on their own.

Recommendations for schools

School administrators should be encouraged to create a climate in which students themselves understand the importance of coming forward and warning of impending violence. Strategies designed to combat bullying, such as peer mediation, conflict resolution, anger management and zero tolerance programs that are being implemented in some schools should be encouraged.




1. Nishima, A. & Juvonen, J. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, March/April, 2005, vol 34; pp37–48