The consequences of childhood bullying have become so detrimental in recent years that they’ve inspired national and global campaigns from government programs, the World Health Organization, and even a national bullying prevention month in October.
Despite visibility and commitments from teachers and institutions to recognize the signs of bullying, it’s important to understand that childhood bullying isn’t exclusive to the classroom. Aggressive behavior toward children can happen anywhere at any time and, if neglected, can lead to post-traumatic stress conditions in children as they grow into adulthood.
To learn more about the long-term effects of childhood bullying, we surveyed over 1,000 people about their personal experiences with bullying as children. We asked them how they were bullied, who was the abuser, if they told someone about their experiences, and if talking about bullying changed the outcome of the situation. Read on as we break down the generational and gender differences of bullying and whether physical attacks or cyberbullying of today’s children may have a more lasting impact.
Throughout this study, we’ll be referring to four types of childhood bullying:
- Physical bullying: This includes fighting that can take the form of hitting, kicking, pinching, or pushing. In some cases, physical bullying may also include damage to a child’s personal property.
- Verbal bullying: This is when people use name-calling, insults, teasing, verbal intimidation, or homophobic or racist remarks to tease or harass children.
- Social bullying: Instead of direct harassment or intimidation, social bullying targets a child’s reputation and social standing instead. This encourages others to ostracize or embarrass certain children unkindly.
- Cyberbullying: This can happen over digital and social mediums. By using technology as a means to communicate with and harass children, cyberbullying includes aggressive or hurtful text messaging, emails, or social media posts.
The Face of Bullying
When it comes to the intimidation of children, verbal bullying is far more common among girls and boys than any other form of harassment. Of the more than 1,000 people who were bullied as children, 96 percent of women and 92 percent of men said bullying involved teasing, name-calling, and other forms of verbal abuse. Like most other forms of bullying, verbal harassment has only increased in recent years. It was more common among millennials and Gen Xers than baby boomers.
For both women and men, the effects of verbal abuse and bullying can be long-lasting. It can create confusion, lead to the symptoms or development of mental disorders, and cause difficulty in forming conclusions or making decisions – leading to self-doubt and low self-confidence.
While men admitted to experiencing more physical bullying as children, 64 percent of women were victims of social bullying when growing up. Cyberbullying may be a more recent development (occurring almost exclusively for millennials), but it was more likely to happen for young women than men.
Who’s Responsible for Childhood Harassment?
Schools and classrooms get much of the attention during the bullying conversation, but classmates aren’t the only culprits when physical, verbal, or digital harassment is involved.
Sixty-five percent of people who experienced derogatory or harmful communication via social media or other digital platforms as children said bullying came from strangers. Studies have shown there are many reasons why people are mean when behind the keyboard, but much of that aggression is owed to the perceived power of anonymity. Unfortunately, rude behavior on the internet can often escalate into truly abusive language.
While physical and verbal bullying were more likely to come from classmates, 20 percent of people who experienced physical bullying as children said the abuse came from their father. Thirty-two percent experiencing verbal bullying said the actions came from a friend and 1 in 5 said the verbal abuse came from a teacher instead.
Starting a Dialogue
Regardless of the form bullying takes, children who experience physical, verbal, social, or cyberbullying can encounter feelings of isolation, shame, low self-esteem, and anxiety. Physically, they may have trouble sleeping at night or actively avoid going to school. The emotional effects of bullying can even spill into their physical health, leading to a higher risk of illness and depression.
Despite the risk, children aren’t always comfortable opening up to their parents about bullying. In fact, only 39 percent of Asian-American and 47 percent of multiracial or biracial adults said they shared the details of their bullying with at least one parent.
Victims of cyberbullying (73 percent) were the most likely to open up to their parents, while victims of verbal (53 percent) and social bullying (56 percent) were the least likely to share their experiences.
For those comfortable divulging the details of their bullying occurrences, only 28 percent said their parents were successful at stopping the bullying. Another 67 percent said nothing changed at all.
Long-Term Effects of Bullying
Whether childhood bullying happens in the classroom, chat room, or a social setting, the consequences can last well into adulthood. More than 2 in 5 adults who encountered bullying as children were later diagnosed with a mental health condition, and 44 percent attributed their condition to the harassment they received as kids.
Twenty-two percent of men and 42 percent of women with depression place culpability for their mental health condition on being harassed as children. Just as many women with anxiety and panic disorders said the same, but only a small percentage of men and women with bipolar disorder, eating disorders, or substance abuse issues agreed. On average, people who connected their mental health condition to childhood bullying experienced bullying for three years longer than those who didn’t cite bullying as a main factor.
Learning How to Cope
Both men and women ranked telling an immediate family member as the most acceptable way to deal with a bully. Telling a teacher or close friend were also seen as acceptable responses.
At their most extreme divergence, 24 percent more women than men thought it was acceptable to switch schools due to childhood bullying. Thirty-five percent more men than women thought fighting back physically was an acceptable response.
In the same way that men and women have different ideas about dealing with bullies, boys and girls can experience bullying differently as well. Boys are often seen as enjoying the status they earn from winning a fight and that imposed sense of bravado can make detecting the signs of bullying in male children more difficult to spot.
Passing Down Perspective
When it came to parents’ bullying advice to their children – based on their own experiences with childhood bullying – “ignore the bully” was not a popular response. Empathy for children who inflicted this kind of damage was even more scarce, as no more than 5 percent of parents wanted their children to believe bullies were just insecure or “going through something.
Overwhelmingly, regardless of harassment, 2 in 5 parents wanted their children to “tell someone about it.” While opening up can be one of the hardest things a victim of abuse or harassment does, encouraging children to speak out against bullying could be the key to helping prevent it in the future.
Regardless of paternal status, nearly 4 in 5 people who experienced bullying as children ranked Facebook as the biggest threat for cyberbullying.
Recently, Facebook announced a major program in the U.K. aimed at helping kids fight web-based attacks by training at least one “digital safety ambassador” at every school.
Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat were also considered significant cyberbullying threats. Unlike outlets including Reddit or Youtube where users typically interact with people they don’t know, it was sites like Facebook and Instagram (where most people do know the other users they follow in real life) where bullying was considered the most rampant.
Forty-four percent of people who experienced physical abuse as children developed a mental health condition later in life. Of those, half attributed their mental condition to their struggle with childhood bullying.
For some children, bullying doesn’t just come and go as the school years change. On average, men experienced physical bullying for seven years and women were exposed to the same harassment for 10 years. Experts suggest victims of physical bullying are often targeted repeatedly due to a real or perceived imbalance of power, either physical or social.
In most cases, the hitting, kicking, pushing, or pinching associated with these attacks came from classmates. Still, physical attacks don’t exclusively happen at school. Nine percent of men were bullied by cousins and 21 percent of women were physically bullied by their father.
A Different Approach to Fighting Back
Bullying can be an everyday occurrence for many children. Tragically, for some, the emotional and mental burden can be overwhelming, leading to death or suicide. Parents who’ve had similar struggles with bullies often encourage their kids to speak out.
In some cases, legal action against bullies may be appropriate. At Injury Claim Coach, our mission is to teach you everything you need to know about the personal injury claim and settlement process. By exploring our claim guides, previous case types, and even state laws, you can decide for yourself whether pursuing a personal injury claim is the right course of action. Visit us at InjuryClaimCoach.com to learn more.
We collected 1,009 adults who were bullied as children from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. Forty-three percent of participants were men, and 57 percent were women. Twelve percent of participants were baby boomers, 27 percent were Gen Xers, and 61 percent were millennials. Participants ranged in age from 18 to 80 with a mean of 36.8 and a standard deviation of 12.1. Demographic groups with less than 20 participants were excluded from individual analysis. We weighted the data to the 2016 U.S. census for gender and age.
This campaign’s data depends on self-reporting. There are some complications with self-reported data, such as: selective amnesia, abstraction, attribution, and exaggeration. Statistical testing was not conducted, and as such, the findings above are based on means alone. This study is purely experimental. Research done in the future should explore this topic more thoroughly.
Fair Use Statement
While the effects of childhood bullying have become more well-known recently, it never hurts to continue to share information on it. Please share the information found on this page for noncommercial purposes only and remember to link back to this article so that the authors receive proper credit.