The study by Warwick University (UK) and Duke University (U.S.) tracked over 1,400 people between the ages of nine and 26.
Researchers sought to discover whether bullied children grow up differently to others, and concluded that contrary to previous beliefs, bullying should not be dismissed as a ‘harmless rite of passage’.
The participants were divided into three groups – victims, bullies and those who had been both bullies and victims (called bully-victims).
The researchers found that bully-victims experience the most negative outcomes of all three groups. These people were described in the report as “easily provoked, low in self-esteem, poor at understanding social cues, and unpopular with peers.”
These people were also six times more likely to smoke regularly, have a serious illness, or develop a psychiatric disorder in adulthood. By their mid-20s, they were also more likely to be obese, lack qualifications and have fewer friends than those who had not been involved in bullying.
Victims who had never been bullies themselves were also worse off. They were more likely to develop mental health problems and other serious illnesses, and they were also more likely to live in poverty.
The major difference between victims who had never bullied and bully-victims was that victims tended to be more successful in education and making friends.
The difference between ‘pure bullies’ and bully-victims was that ‘pure bullies’ were more likely to have a history of violence in their relationships, be sacked from jobs and be involved in risky or criminal behaviour such as taking drugs, abusing alcohol, lying, fighting and having one-night stands with strangers.
Bullies were also more likely to be involved in criminal activities such as breaking into houses. Despite this, ‘pure bullies’ also turned out to be the wealthiest and healthiest of all the groups.
Often school bullies are later identified as being strong, socially capable and healthy – while their aggressive, manipulative behaviour can be interpreted as deviance.
Professor Dieter Wolke of the University of Warwick said: “We cannot continue to dismiss bullying as a harmless, almost inevitable, part of growing up. We need to change this mindset and acknowledge this as a serious problem for both the individual and the country as a whole; the effects are long-lasting and significant.”
The consequences of bullying in schools can be both damaging and far-reaching. It is vital that we address bullying immediately to prevent future social problems. If you or somebody you know is experiencing bullying and you would like support, please view our Bullying page where you will find useful information, external links to charities and information about counselling for bullying.
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