The days in which bullying was considered a rite of passage in schools and kids just needed to “suck it up” may be coming to an end.
A new study conducted by researchers from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine shows that bullying is a public health problem. This unwanted aggressive behavior has physical and mental effects on both the bully and the victim.
“Everyone knows that bullying has been around for a long time, but we now realize it has important consequences and we can no longer accept it as a regular part of childhood,” Dr. Frederick Rivara, a professor of pediatrics and epidemiology at the University of Washington and Seattle Children’s Hospital who led the study, told the Observer.
Such harassment has serious physical and mental effects, ranging from headaches, abdominal pain and trouble sleeping to psychological issues like depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.
Bullies are also negatively affected by their behavior, even if they don’t show it right away—the research demonstrated that not only do they feel depressed like their victims, they are also more likely to be thieves or vandals later in life.
While 18 to 31 percent of children are bullied overall, the percentages are higher in various subgroups—over half of LGBT youth still face harassment in school, including three quarters of transgender students. Children with mental health problems like autism, along with those struggling with their weight, also had a greater likelihood of being bullied.
With the advent of social media, cyberbullying is also a growing problem—the study found that between seven and 15 percent of youth were bullied online, and that both perpetrators and victims felt the same harmful effects as those who bullied and were victimized in traditional ways.
Zero tolerance policies, in which bullies are suspended or expelled, do not help decrease the rate of the behavior because many children do not want their classmates to face harsh punishments, even if they are guilty of the offense. Indeed, the report found that while nearly a third of children are bullied, only 16 percent of them actually report it.
In light of this, Dr. Rivara said that the best way to ensure that bullying ends in the schoolyard and doesn’t graduate into more serious harassment, in person or online, was for children and adults to work together and intervene when they see someone being harassed, so that the school environment becomes a more positive place.
“There need to be more comprehensive, multifaceted programs in which students, parents and teachers are involved in setting a school climate that encourages social behavior and discourages bullying,” Dr. Rivara concluded.