What happens when childhood bullies grow up?


What happens to childhood bullies, and their victims, after they all grow up? While we know that kids who are bullied suffer, today we look at a long-term study that looked at the lives of people who were bullied, and those who perpetrated the bullying, to see how these kids turn out when they are in their mid-20s.

Published recently in Psychological Science, researchers studied 1,273 children from North Carolina (EUA) when they were ages 9 to13. The kids were assessed yearly until they were 16, and then again at ages 19, 21, and finally when they were between 24 and 26 years old.

The researchers analyzed the young adults for the incidence of illnesses such as obesity, diabetes, cancer, asthma, as well as if they had problems financially, or problems keeping a job.

After interviewing the children when they were still teenagers, they were identified as belonging to one of three groups: kids who were bullied, kids who bullied others, and kids who were both bullied and then bullied other children.

The kids who turned out best over the long-term, both mentally and physically, were the kids who were not bullied, nor did they bully other kids.

The ones who bullied or who were bullied had significantly higher rates of health problems in their mid-twenties, and were more likely to have financial problems, including difficulties staying employed. The ones who suffered the most long-term were the ones who were both bullied and themselves bullied others (called “bully-victims”).

These bully-victims were “over six times more likely to be diagnosed with a serious illness, smoke regularly, or develop a psychiatric disorder compared to those not involved in bullying.” These are the children who likely were bullied and then, perhaps as a reaction, turned to bully other kids.

But all three groups—the victims, the perpetrators, and the bully-victims—had more problems forming long-term friendships and social relationships, and even good relationships with their parents when they became adults.

It is both important for parents, teachers, and all adults to do what they can to stop bullying, and if it happens, parents need to help the victims cope, and support them psychologically to help prevent these problems when they grow up. Psychologist Guy Winch, and expert on bullying, mentions four ways adults can help the children who either bully or are bullied:

*Find ways to revive their self-esteem and not descend into shame and self-hatred

*Heal from the severe emotional pain

*Manage the surges in anger and aggression they are likely to feel, which can directed not only to others but to themselves as well

*Restore their sense of belonging to reinforce feelings of being accepted, valued, and loved

Bullying not only harms the children involved, but leads to long-term health and financial problems when the children grow up. Bullying is a public health problem, increasing levels of poverty and psychiatric illness (and likely crime) in our society. All of us benefit from helping to stamp it out.

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