The Effects of Bullying

Bullying is defined as a repeated aggression in which one or more persons intend to harm or disturb another person physically, verbally or psychologically. It can take many forms such as physical aggression, verbal aggression or social isolation. Bullying is a significant social problem and has likely occurred throughout human history. Research has shown that bullying not only affects a child’s learning but it also has detrimental consequences on a child’s future development. Effects on victims include low self-esteem, depression, school failure and anxiety.

Implications for aggressors include delinquent behaviour and low levels of happiness. It will be argued that bullying is not normal and that children are not able to cope with it. Bullying is acknowledged to be a common and widespread form of violence in the school context in many countries (Smith et al. , 1999). Olweus (1993) defines bullying as a subtype of aggressive behaviour in which an aggressor intentionally and repeatedly over time harms a weaker victim either physically and/or psychologically. Effects on victims of bullying include low self-esteem, depression, school failure and in extreme cases, suicide.

Bullying is a significant social problem in many countries and presents a serious threat to a healthy development during the school career. Research shows that victims of bullying tend to be withdrawn, cautious and insecure. They also exhibit poor psychosocial functioning. Although victims respond in various ways to bullying, avoidance behaviours are the most common (Batsche & Knoff, 1994; Kumpulainen et al. , 1998). On the other hand, research suggests that children identified as bullies demonstrate poorer school adjustment, both in terms of achievement and well-being and also perceive less social support from teachers.

This implies that bullying has detrimental consequences for both bullies and victims. This essay is set out to investigate the factors relating to bullying and the effects it has on child development. It will be argued that bullying is not normal and that children are not able to cope with it. Bullying may be common, but it is not normal. Many parents and children today underestimate and downplay the significance of bullying in society today. Parents assume that their children are able to cope with bullying, with some parents even thinking that being bullied to a certain extent might “toughen up” their child.

However, as research has shown, bullying has many life-long destructive consequences on these victims of bullying. Not only does bullying cause a child to become withdrawn and cautious, these experiences can have long-term impacts through adolescence and into adulthood. This then hinders their natural ability to make friends and to socialize. Children identified as victims also tend to exhibit poor psychosocial functions. Bullying should not be accepted as a process that children have to go through. Bullying is a destructive relationship problem. Victimized children carry the hurt and fear from bullying forward into adult relationships.

As a result, these children tend to withdraw from peer interactions and are at risk of becoming socially anxious. Craig & Pepler (2007) noted that once peers become aware that a child is being victimized, they hesitate to intervene for fear of being victimized themselves. They distance themselves from the victimized child and may even join in the bullying to become more accepted by those in power. If children are victimized over a prolonged period of time, they lack the normative social interactions that are critical to their healthy development and emerging relationship capacity.

These children also experience significant mental health problems. They tend to be more withdrawn, cautious and insecure. Schwartz (2000) also noted that these children were likely to be less prosocial than uninvolved children were for fear of “not being able to fit in” (Hoover, Oliver & Hazler, 1992). Being a victim of bullying can greatly affect a child’s self-esteem and hinder his or her potential. Victims become increasingly hesitant to engage in social activities, with some even refusing to attend school in order to protect themselves from bullying (Kaltiala-Heino, Rimpela, Rantanen, & Rimpela, 2000; Rigby, 2003).

Pepler and Craig (2000) noted that frequently bullied children experienced a wide range of problems and need focused support to enable them to move on from these abusive interactions. Victims also reported feeling lonelier and less happy at school and having fewer good friends (Boulton & Underwood, 1992; Nansel et al. , 2001, 2004). Not only does bullying harm all involved, it also affects the climate of the school, which indirectly affects the ability of all students to learn to the best of their abilities.

Poor academic achievement is a likely consequence of victimization; if children are worried about being victimized, they are less focused on academic work (Card & Hodges, 2008). Children can only handle a certain amount of pressure before reaching their breaking point. As seen in certain extreme cases, children unable to take the pressure from this constant bullying, resort to suicide, or even mass killings of classmates and teachers. Research suggests that children identified as bullies demonstrate poorer psychosocial functioning than their classmates.

They show poorer school adjustment, both in terms of achievement and well-being (Nansel et al. , 2001, 2004), and perceive less social support from teachers (Demaray & Malecki, 2003). Implications for aggressors include delinquent behaviour (Rigby & Cox, 1996) and low levels of happiness (Rigby & Slee, 1993). Haynie et al. (2001) concluded that “bullying might allow children to achieve their immediate goals without learning socially acceptable ways to negotiate with others, resulting in persistent maladaptive patterns” (p. 31).

Perry, Perry & Kennedy (1992) also noted that bullies believe they will achieve success through their aggression, are unaffected by inflicting pain and suffering, and process information about victims in a rigid and automatic fashion. Research from Demaray & Malecki (2003) showed that bullies were also more difficult in the classroom and were frustrating for teachers. Lessons of power and aggression learned in childhood bullying can lead to sexual harassment (McMaster, Connolly, Pepler & Craig, 2002), dating aggression (Pepler, Craig, Blais & Rahey, 2005) and may later extend to workplace harassment, as well as marital, child and elder abuse.

These social costs of bullying extend beyond the individual and also impact on society as a whole. Parental factors play a major role in determining not only whether their children are subject to bullying but also how well their children are able to deal with it. Most parents today really underestimate the damage that bullying can do. Parenting behaviours of support, involvement and responsiveness are associated with low levels of victimization, whereas child abuse, over protectiveness (for boys) and threats of rejection (for girls) are associated with greater victimization (Finnegan, Hodges & Perry, 1998; Ladd & Ladd, 1998).

Nansel et al. (2001, 2004) also noted that victimization was associated with greater parental involvement in school, which may reflect parental awareness of children’s difficulties but which may also reflect a reduced independence among these youths. Evidence suggests that bullies come from homes in which parents prefer physical discipline, are sometimes hostile and rejecting, have poor problem-solving skills and are permissive toward striking back at the least provocation (Demaray & Malecki, 2003; Loeber & Dishion, 1984).

Clearly then, the effects of bullying could be very much lessened, or in fact, prevented, with significant changes in the attitudes of parents. Farrington (1993) identified an intergenerational link: Parents who bullied in childhood were likely to have children who bullied their peers. Children need help to understand that bullying is wrong, develop respect and empathy for others and learn how to get along with and support others. In conclusion, bullying is wrong and hurtful. Every child has the right to be safe and free from involvement in bullying.

Bullying affects children who are bullied, those who bully others and those who know it is going on. There is reason to be concerned for both the aggressors and the victims, with research showing that aggressors are at risk for long-term problems with antisocial behaviour and substance use (Farrington, 1993; Olweus, 1991) and victimized children being at risk for anxiety, depression and somatic complaints (Olweus, 1993; Rigby, 2003). It is essential to identify children at risk for bullying and/or victimization and to provide support for their development and relationships.

Although bullying cannot be completely extinguished, it is highly preventable. The implementation of cooperative learning activities to reduce social isolation, an increase in adult supervision at times when bullying is most frequent, supporting bullying awareness campaigns through schools, creating classroom rules against bullies (i. e. role-playing activities and classroom discussions), improving the overall school environment, and empowering students through assertiveness training like peers counselling and conflict resolution programs are all effective ways of ensuring that bullying is minimized greatly.

Effective bullying prevention and intervention activities for children enable them to develop the skills essential for building healthy relationships. This way, we can then allow children to hone their normative social interactive skills that are critical to their healthy development.

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