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Childhood Bullying Scars Can Last Into Adulthood

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Posted August 23, 2013

Highlighting the harm caused by bullying, a new study finds the effects of childhood bullying last into adulthood and can lead to problems such as illness, job difficulties and poor relationships with others.

Researchers assessed 1,420 people four to six times between the ages of 9 and 16, and then again when they were between ages 24 and 26. The participants included victims of childhood bullying, bullies and those in both categories, known as bully-victims.

Bully-victims, who may turn to bullying after being bullied themselves, had the greatest risk of health problems when they were adults. They were over six times more likely to be diagnosed with a serious illness, smoke or have a psychiatric disorder than people not involved in bullying.

Victims, bullies and bully-victims were all more than twice as likely as others to have difficulty in keeping a job or committing to saving money. As a result, they were more likely to be poor in young adulthood, according to the study published Aug. 19 in the journal Psychological Science.

The three groups showed no real difference in the likelihood of being married or having children, but did show signs of having difficulty forming relationships with other people, particularly when it came to maintaining long-term friendships or good ties with parents in adulthood.

However, after accounting for the influence of childhood psychiatric problems and family hardships, the researchers concluded that being a childhood bully had little impact in adulthood.

“Bullies appear to be children with a prevailing antisocial tendency who know how to get under the skin of others, with bully-victims taking the role of their helpers,” study co-leader Dieter Wolke, of the University of Warwick, said in a journal news release.

“It is important to find ways of removing the need for these children to bully others and, in doing so, protect the many children suffering at the hand of bullies — they are the ones who are hindered later in life,” he added.

“We cannot continue to dismiss bullying as a harmless, almost inevitable, part of growing up,” Wolke said. “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.”

Although the study found associations between childhood bullying and serious health and social consequences in adulthood, it did not establish a cause-and-effect relationship.

SOURCE: Psychological Science, news release

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