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Impact of bullying can last a lifetime

March 08, 2008|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Karen Reilly pulled her son out of a Washington County public school after he endured years of bullying from his classmates.

Her son suffered verbal abuse for the most part. The situation also became physical at one point.

The bullying began in his sixth-grade year, after he stood up for another student who was being bullied.

Reilly said being bullied had a significant impact on her son.

"He didn't want to go to school," said Reilly, of Knoxville. "I just realized over the holidays that he was still learning to trust at his new school ... that things weren't going to fall apart and the bullying was not going to begin again."

The impact of bullying on a child can be devastating, and the effects can last a lifetime, said Dr. Megan Bradley, associate professor of psychology at Frostburg (Md.) State University.

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Physical, verbal and even cyber bullying all can be equally dangerous, she said. The damage to the child depends only on the intensity of the bullying.

Impact on the victim

Children who are bullied are more likely to be at risk for depression and anxiety, Bradley said.

"And then externally, they tend to act out because they have been victimized," she said. "They express their feelings by acting out, destroying property or being agitated toward others."

The most extreme case of acting out can be a school shooting, similar to the incident at Columbine High School in 1999.

The effects of bullying can include a drop in grades, a loss in appetite, depression, social detachment or being fearful and on edge, said Cheryl Mitchell-Jones, acting supervisor of school counselors for Washington County Public Schools.

One student said school became a punishment after she suffered months of verbal abuse and taunting from her classmates. She was afraid to go to school when they threatened physical harm.

Reilly's son, who now is a freshman at a nonpublic high school, said he constantly was mocked, and called a "nerd" because he skipped the seventh grade.

"(Other students) really wouldn't pay attention to me, and when they did, they just made fun of me, mocking me and calling me a nerd," he said.

The constant teasing caused him to lose confidence and shut down emotionally, he said.

"I was just kind of sad all of the time," he said.

Reilly's son said he believes he still is recovering from being bullied.

"The key thing is that for many victims of bullying, they didn't have any issues initially," Bradley said.

Reilly said she noticed that her son became quieter, less exuberant and frightened while being bullied.

"This was a kid who would get out of the car and run into the school in elementary school," she said. "And in high school, it was like he was being beaten down."

Impact on the bully

Bullying is about power, Bradley said.

"There is something about the child who is engaging in the bullying that they feel they need to gain some power over others, and there's a reward ... there's something ... a feeling about overpowering someone," she said. "It's not healthy, but it's a reward."

The effects on the bully also can last a lifetime.

Bradley said there is about a 25 percent increase in the likelihood that those children will commit a crime by adulthood.

"They don't have the skills to get along in a healthy way," she said. "So they resort to something easier like that power over others."

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