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Bullying reported to impact children’s physical and mental health

A new study evaluated bullying among children as they progressed from elementary school through high school and examined its physical and mental health effects
A new study evaluated bullying among children as they progressed from elementary school through high school and examined its physical and mental health effects
Robin Wulffson, M.D.

Bullying is commonplace among schoolchildren throughout the US and public awareness of the problem is increasing. A new study evaluated bullying among children as they progressed from elementary school through high school and examined its physical and mental health effects. They published their findings online on February 17 in the journal Pediatrics. The study was conducted by researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital (Boston, Massachusetts), Harvard Medical School (Boston, Massachusetts), the RAND Corporation (Santa Monica, California), the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (Houston, Texas), and the University of Alabama at Birmingham (Birmingham, Alabama).

The researchers note that bullying is a form of peer victimization and studies have reported that children who experience bullying have poorer mental and physical health; however, few studies have investigated these relationships over time. Therefore, they conducted a study of bullying longitudinally (over time) in regard to mental and physical health from elementary to high school. They compared the effects of different types of bullying.

The study group comprised 4,297 children from three cities who were surveyed at three time points (fifth, seventh, and tenth grades). The researchers conducted a statistical analysis to evaluate longitudinal associations of bullying with mental and physical health; they compared children who experienced bullying in both the past and present, experienced bullying in the present only, experienced bullying in the past only, or did not experience bullying.

The investigators found that bullying was associated with poorer mental and physical health, greater depression symptoms, and lower self-worth over time. Health was significantly worse for children with both past and present bullying experiences, followed by children with present-only bullying, children with past-only bullying, and children with no bullying experiences. For example, 44.6% of the children who were bullied in both the past and present were at the lowest decile (10%) of psychosocial health, compared with 30.7% of children who were bullied in the present only, 12.1% of those bullied in the past only, and 6.5% of those who had never been bullied.

The authors concluded that both chronic and current bullying are associated with significantly poorer health. They recommended that healthcare professionals who recognize bullying when it first starts could intervene to reverse the downward health trajectory that occurs among children who are repeated targets.

According to the Los Angeles Unified School District, bullying is defined as any severe or pervasive physical or verbal acts or conduct, including electronic communications committed by one or more students that has, or can be reasonably predicted to have, the effect of one or more of the following:

  • Reasonable fear of harm to person or property.
  • Substantially detrimental effect on physical or mental health.
  • Substantial interference with academic performance.
  • Substantial interference with the ability to participate in or benefit from school services, activities, or privileges.

Hazing is defined as any method of initiation, pre-initiation, or rite of passage associated with actual or desired membership in a student organization or student body, whether or not the organization or body is officially recognized by an educational institution, which is likely to cause serious bodily, injury, personal degradation or disgrace that result in physical or psychological harm. Hazing typically, but not exclusively, involves newer members showing subservience to existing members and shall be reported to the administrator of the school and/or advisor of that student body activity.

Bullying can be manifested in a variety of forms that include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Cyberbullying is bullying by electronic act, which includes transmission of a communication by text, sound, image, video, message, website post, social network activity, or other form of communication sent by an electronic device.
  • Verbal bullying includes hurtful gossiping, making rude noises, making threats, name-calling, spreading rumors, or teasing.
  • Physical bullying includes intentional, unwelcome acts of beating, biting, fighting, hitting, kicking, poking, punching, pushing, shoving, spitting, or tripping.
  • Social or relational bullying includes spreading rumors, manipulating relationships, exclusion, blackmailing, isolating, rejecting, using peer pressure and ranking personal characteristics.
  • Non-verbal bullying includes the use of threatening gestures, staring, stalking, graffiti or graphic images, and destruction of property to cause distress, intimidation, discomfort, pain or humiliation.
  • Indirect bullying is the use of intimidation or peer pressure to cause harm to a third party or parties.

An anti-bullying brochure prepared by the Los Angeles Unified School District can be viewed at this link.

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