The Short-Term Effects of Bullying

Little boy lying awake in bed looking anxious

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Bullying is abusive behavior by people with real or perceived power toward people with less power. Bullying can be obvious or subtle, and it can occur both in childhood and adulthood. While bullying can have long-term impacts, it can also have immediate, short-term, and recognizable outcomes. The impacts of bullying are often psychological and behavioral, but they may also be physical.

Psychological Issues

Victims of bullying commonly demonstrate a number of psychological problems, particularly depression and anxiety. Girls may also develop eating disorders after or while being bullied. In addition, victimized children of both sexes may develop psychosomatic issues, which are bodily complaints that have no physical cause. For instance, victims often suffer from headaches or stomachaches, particularly before the school day begins.

Problems With Sleep

Bully victims often have a range of sleep issues. They may have difficulties falling asleep, staying asleep and/or getting their needed rest on any given night. When victims are able to sleep, they are more likely to experience nightmares than their non-victimized peers. These nightmares tend to be vivid and menacing and may or may not involve the bully.

Victims May Become Suicidal

Unfortunately, victims of bullying have higher rates of suicidality than their peers. This means that they think about committing suicide much more often than others their age. As many high-profile cases make clear, a number of victims follow through on these suicidal thoughts.

If you or your child are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

Problems With Peers

Victimized children also suffer from lower social status than non-victimized children. Social exclusion may have lead to a child being victimized in the first place, but it seems that peer rejection gets even worse after a person is bullied. As a result, victims often feel lonely and abandoned and suffer from low self-esteem.

Issues at School 

Bully victims tend to have problems with academic achievement. This primarily occurs due to victims' frequent absenteeism. In fact, about 7% of American eighth-graders reporting staying home from school at least once a month to avoid being bullied. When victims do attend school, they tend to avoid certain parts of the school, such as the restrooms. Victims of bullying may be scared all day at school, making learning difficult if not impossible

Recognizing and Ending Bullying

Children with special needs, physical differences, and behavioral differences are often at risk for bullying. They are not, however, uniquely vulnerable. Even popular children may be victims of bullying under certain circumstances. If your child is exhibiting any of the symptoms listed above, and there are no underlying health or anxiety issues that better explain those symptoms, it's a good idea to investigate.

  1. Start by talking with your child. He or she may well be willing to share bullying experiences if asked in a safe, non-judgmental setting.
  2. Discuss the issue with your child's teachers, coaches, etc. If your child is concerned about privacy, be sure to choose a non-public, non-school setting for your conversations.
  3. If the bullying is overt, physically aggressive, or constant, there is a good chance your child's teachers are well aware of the problem. There is also a good chance that your child is not the only victim. When this is the case, it may be possible to take disciplinary action to stop bullying behavior.
  4. If the bullying is subtle, or your child is unusually sensitive to "teasing" behaviors, you may need to request special accommodations for your child. Options can range from changing seats in a particular class to changing classes or even, in extreme circumstances, changing schools.
  5. If your child continues to suffer from anxiety and other symptoms even after the bullying is addressed, they may benefit from cognitive therapy.
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