Can Bullying Affect a Child's Development?

Can Bullying Affect a Child’s Development?

By: Jamie Kreps

Can Bullying Affect a Child's Development?

It probably comes as no surprise, but bullying has been linked to an enormous amount of developmental issues in children – both in those who have been bullied and those who have bullied others. In fact, according to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), bullying has a lifelong impact on the social and emotional development of children that puts them at risk for everything from severe mental health issues to stunted professional growth later in life.

According to the NICHD, children who are involved in bullying experiences (on either side of the situation) are at an increased risk of developing issues such as:

  • Depression and anxiety
  • Low self-esteem and personal drive
  • Trouble focusing and falling grades
  • Behavioral problems
  • Social and relationship issues
  • Substance abuse later in life
  • Self-harming behaviors

Bullying can also affect other children who witness the acts – even if they aren’t directly involved – by leaving them feeling insecure in their environments and fearing they could be next. The long-term effects of bullying go well beyond the initial instances and the people at the center of it and can often stay with a person for the remainder of their life. Since bullying can essentially destroy a child’s self-esteem, it can manifest itself in ways that will jeopardize future opportunities for years to come.

How It Manifests

As explained by ViolencePreventionWorks.org, “Nearly one in five students in an average classroom is experiencing bullying in some way,” but the effects are not limited to those involved directly. While it may seem obvious that those who are bullied have a higher risk of developing developmental issues, what’s less obvious is that bullying also affects the on-lookers.

Bullying brings negative affects to everyone who witnesses the act by way of creating what feels like an unsafe environment. It can make children feel as though they are helpless, planting a deep seed of insecurity and disdain for their classroom (and classmates) as a whole. Bullying also makes kids feel as though they can’t be protected by those they trust (teachers, aides, parents, etc.) which can lead to withdrawal and a failure to thrive.

Often times it is this withdrawal that is the first and most obvious sign that bullying is taking place, apart from actually seeing the incident in person. Over time, if bullying continues, those who witness it will likely begin to show other signs such as attention issues, fear of participating in normal activities, and acting out or other behavioral problems such as vandalism or destroying toys or objects.

The Long-Term Effects of Bullying

The effects of bullying are so debilitating, in fact, that researchers have linked it to a lower rate of success and quality of life decades later. According to Psychology Today, the low self-esteem and attention issues of youths who had been bullied translated to lower incomes and a greater risk for becoming involved in criminal acts as adults.

Research showed that individuals who had been “involved in bullying had poorer educational attainment and less income than adults who had not been involved in bullying,” the Psychology Today report explained. Not only do children involved in bullying suffer from mental and behavioral issues throughout childhood, but the research shows it deeply affects their cognitive and emotional development in ways that long outlast the actual incident.

How to Stop It

Thankfully, bullying prevention has been put in the spotlight in recent years and has gained momentum in educational facilities across the country. Many schools and childcare providers now implement some variation of an anti-bullying policy, which has had a major impact on developing minds everywhere.

Most anti-bullying policies include tips such as keeping a watchful eye, utilizing activities that encourage kids to speak up about their experiences, and keeping an open line of communication with youngsters to ensure they are comfortable with sharing any unwanted behaviors by others. If you’re in need of some tips on implementing an anti-bullying policy in your facility, check out the US Department of Health and Human Services website, StopBullying.gov for more information.