Bullying has a profound effect on those who bully, those who are bullied, and those who witness the bullying. More than 30 years ago, Leonard Eron’s longitudinal examination of bullying demonstrated that most children identified as “bullies” in Grade 3 were also identified as “bullies” by the end of high school. By the age of 30, one out of four of those who bullied had a criminal record. The males who bullied had greater tendencies to be abusive in their adult intimate relationships than those who did not bully, and the females who bullied were more abusive to their children. The research also discovered a correlation between bullying and a range of social problems, including employment difficulties, alcohol and drug dependency, and divorce.
Other studies indicate that boys and girls who both bully and are bullied are more liable to suffer depression than other students and that girls who both bully and are bullied are more likely to self-mutilate or seriously contemplate, attempt or commit suicide.
Targets of bullying fear an increase in bullying if they tell, and suffer from a sense that nothing can be done about it anyway. Their shame and guilt at their inability to cope with the bullying make them anxious and unhappy. Targets suffer from the isolation and exclusion that removes them from the company of other children. Not surprisingly, they often feel less capable and less assured than those around them and need constant reaffirmation from adults. They may have difficulty forming interpersonal relationships and may present as academically troubled, regardless of their ability. Peter Randall indicates they may also have trouble sleeping, exhibit signs of depression, become physically ill, have trouble focusing on school work, and regularly resist attending school. Targets of bullying may begin taking the long way to or from school to avoid their tormentors, or may begin to steal to pay a bully’s extortion.
Targets of bullying are often unable to remove the stigma of being a target no matter what they do. They may be put down by other students when working in groups, often picked last when teams are selected, or find that no one wants to work with them. They may be involved in and blamed for fights not of their own choosing. The more they’re bullied, the more isolated they become, and the more bullies are able to dehumanize them. As with bullies, targets are at significant risk of developing antisocial behaviours as adolescents and into adulthood. Bullying undermines the bullied child’s sense of self and personal safety.
Bystanders also suffer negative outcomes as a result of witnessing bullying. They are often stirred up by the emotional content of the experience, frequently align with the student who bullies, learn to “blame the victim,” or accept their own implicit failure by failing to intervene. A general lack of adult intervention can lead them to believe that those with power are allowed to aggress against others and achieve added status as a result of their behaviour. They may even take advantage of opportunities to adopt the same antisocial behaviour. For many children who witness bullying, it creates feelings of sadness, anxiety, and the sense that the world is not a safe place. It can greatly affect children’s capacity to concentrate and to learn.
Bullying behaviour has a devastating impact on all members of the school community, including the students who bully. Some students who bully have learned attitudes and behaviours which undermine their ability to cooperate, to integrate themselves into their peer group, and to respect others’ differences and rights.