Why Bullying Is A Problem


Why Bullying Is A Problem

What to do if you suspect your child is involved in bullying

With the rise of social media platforms over the years, the act and nature of bullying has evolved. Not only do parents have to worry about their child’s well-being during school hours, it has become increasingly important to regularly monitor children’s social media and electronic interactions. Bullying is the act of repeated aggression or intimidation towards another where an imbalance in power exists between individuals. Bullying is also a form of adverse childhood experience (ACE), which usually involves some form of physical violence, intimidation, ridicule, name-calling, social exclusion, and/or extortion. Early research on the nature of bullying considered it a common psychosocial problem during school age years that usually resolves itself as children grow up. However, the repeated news and frequent coverage of school shootings, teen suicides, and self-harm among school-aged youth create increased worries about how bullying impacts children’s future well-being and adjustment.

Recent national data suggest that 20% of school-aged youth (12-18) are the victims of bullying during an academic year. Bullying victimization occurs similarly for male and female students, however, males are more likely to be bullying perpetrators and bully/victims. At age 12-14, bullying victimization is at its peak prevalence rate (25-27%). Of the various forms of bullying, verbal (e.g., name-calling) and social bullying (e.g., subject of rumors) were the most commonly endorsed forms. 


Childhood Outcomes

Studies show that any involvement in bullying (i.e., as a pure bully, bully/victim, or pure victim) is linked to poorer psychological functioning. Bullying perpetration is linked to higher rates of maladjustment, substance use, truancy, vandalism, aggressive behaviors (e.g., carrying weapons), school dropout, psychosomatic problems, and increased risk for psychosis at age 18. 

In contrast, bullying victims were more likely to develop depressed mood and anxiety symptoms, sleep problems, and experience poor academic functioning. Additionally, the experience of being a bully/victim results in an even greater risk of developing externalizing symptoms (aggression, conduct problems), internalizing symptoms (depression, suicidality), negative sense of self and others, poor social skills, peer rejection, severe psychopathology, physical health concerns, and higher adjustment problems than pure victims. Thus, the negative implications of bullying are indiscriminate because it affects all individuals despite involvement level from bystanders, to the victims, and the bullies themselves.


Adulthood Outcomes

Contrary to general public expectations, bullying experiences do not merely resolve over time. Instead, the negative implications of bullying perpetration and victimization tend to persist into high-risk behaviors and adult psychiatric disorders. Bullying history has been associated with a variety of poor long-term outcomes, with serious mental illness and psychosis being the most significant. Studies on individuals with early symptoms of psychosis indicate that increased severity and duration of bullying victimization history were significantly associated with the emergence of psychosis symptoms. Indeed, individuals with subthreshold psychotic symptoms endorsed a lifetime history of physical (30%) and psychological bullying (60%) that was much higher than healthy control participants (14 and 36%, respectively). Much like physical and sexual abuse, bullying perpetration and victimization may be an equally important type of ACE to pay attention to among youth.

While it may be difficult to determine whether bullying is indeed occurring for school-aged youth, the simple rule is to ask the target individual how they perceive the interaction. Is it unwanted? Do they feel unsafe? Does the attention make them feel uncomfortable? 

Talking to your child about how they are doing in school and learning more about their peers and social circles is important. Being aware of potential difficulties with peers and taking note of recent behavior changes related to academics, social-related involvement, or overall functioning may also help you determine how to best help them.

If you suspect that bullying may be an issue and your child is currently experiencing:

  • depressed mood

  • increased anxiety

  • changes in social functioning

  • declined academic functioning

Please contact me to schedule an appointment

I'd be happy to do work with you and your child through individual therapy to address their needs.


-Dr. Danessa Mayo