Bullying isn’t just a problem for a child when it’s happening. It also can have lasting effects beyond the time it occurs, a new study suggests.
Those who suffered ongoing childhood bullying were most likely to have poor mental and physical health, a study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics shows. But those who had been bullied for a time and reported it had stopped still showed signs of lingering health problems, such as such as symptoms of depression and lower self-worth, the study showed.
Bullying is defined as physical or verbal abuse, repeated over time and involving a power imbalance.
The study is one of the few and the largest to date to examine lingering effects of bullying. It looked at children’s mental and physical health at three different times: in the fifth, seventh and tenth grade, the study’s author said.
Looking at 4,297 children from Birmingham, Houston and Los Angeles, the study examined four different groups: children who had never been bullied; those who had been bullied in the past; those who had been bullied in the present only; and those who had been bullied in the past and present.
Overall, 30 percent reported they had been bullied.
Almost 50 percent of children who had been bullied in the past and present had very poor psychological health, compared to 31 percent of those only bullied in the present and 12 percent of those bullied only in the past. Seven percent of children who had never been bullied still had poor mental health, the study found.
The study’s lead author, Laura M. Bogart, a Harvard Medical School associate professor in pediatrics, noted the link between bullying and poor health cannot be confirmed because of the way the study was designed.
But, she said: “One of the most direct implications from the study is that this is a really strong argument for immediate and early intervention . . . [because] this can really have severe consequences for health.”
Dr. Benjamin Shain, who was not part of the study, said parents should encourage their child to talk to them and look for changes in behavior in order to identify bullying, such as grades suddenly going down, the child suddenly not wanting to go to school and not wanting to hang out with friends anymore.
Other things may be causing these problems, “but bullying would certainly be one thing to ask about,” said Shain, head of the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at NorthShore University HealthSystem.
The American Academy of Pediatrics is hosting its first Healthy Children Conference + Expo on bullying and other topics on March 8 and 9 in Rosemont. More information is available at www.healthychildrenexpo.org.