The Effects of Bullying

By: Christina Whalen, PhD, BCBA-D

Female student hiding from bullies behind brick

Any student can be the target of bullying. One out of 5 students report being a victim of bullying at some point (National Educational Statistics, 2016). Students who are bullied have increased school avoidance, decreases in grades, and difficulties with learning. These students often suffer from sleep difficulties, headaches and stomachaches, and mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Students who are frequently bullied are two times more likely to have suicidal ideation or attempts (Gini & Espelage, 2014). Students who are bullies also have long-term issues such as academic problems, substance use, behavioral issues, and problems with the law. They are less likely to obtain meaningful employment and often struggle with independence and relationships as adults.

There are many reasons why a student might be the victim of bullying. The research on race, ethnicity, and national origin are still not clear, but there are some studies that report this to be a reason for bullying. For instance, Davis & Nixon, 2010, reported that about 16% of students reported this as a reason for bullying. Common reasons for bullying include looks and body shape. In 2010, Davis & Nixon reported that about 55% students reported looks as the primary reason for bullying and about 37% reported body shape as the primary reason. About 1/3 of overweight girls and ¼ of overweight boys reported being teased or bullied about their weight (Puhl, Luedick, & Heuer, 2011).

The students who are at highest risk for being targets are LGBTQ students and students with disabilities. In a National School Climate Survey in 2013, about 74% of students reported being verbally bullied and about 36% reported being physically bullied due to their sexual orientation. More than half of the LGBTQ students in this study reported that they felt unsafe at school and about 30% of them missed at least 1 day of school in the past month due to feeling unsafe or uncomfortable at school. Almost half of the students reported that they were targets of cyberbullying.

A student with a developmental disability is 2-3 times more likely to be a target of bullying than their peers (Marshall, Kendall, Banks, & Gover, 2009). Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act state that bullying based on disability can be considered harassment and is illegal (U.S. Department of Education, 2016).

Some students with disabilities are more commonly targeted including those with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Some warning indicators that a student is being bullied include increased school absences, decrease in academic performance, increased anxiety, sleep or eating issues, and increased social isolation.

Some indicators that a student is being a bully include a decreased sensitivity to others such as laughing when someone gets hurt or fails at something, a strong desire for popularity, secretiveness, and increased behavioral challenges.

Not all bullying occurs at school but the incidents can certainly have a negative impact on students’ academic and social interactions at school. For instance, cyberbullying can seriously affect the interactions of students at school, even though it typically happens outside of school time. Cyberbullying is the harassment or threatening of another person through online communication such as social media, texting, or video. Bullying can take place through rumors, comments, photos, or fake profiles. Like other types of bullying, students who are cyberbullied are more likely to miss school, have decreases in academic performance, have increased anxiety and depression, and isolate themselves more from other people.

About 16-21% of students in middle and high school report being targets of cyberbullying according to the National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice Statistics (2015) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2015). If a student appears to be a target of cyberbullying, encourage the student to not respond to it and block the person that is bothering them. Talk to their parents about the issue and be sure to let the student know that you are doing so. For students who appear to be cyberbullying other students, be sure to talk to them about the long-term consequences of inappropriate online behaviors and postings for their own future. Try to get them to understand how their behavior really impacts other students- not only the target student, but other students as well; speak to the student’s parents about your concerns but be sure to notify the student about these conversations or have them involved in the discussion.

About the Author

Christina Whalen, Ph.D., BCBA-D, Director of Research at RethinkFirst

Christina Whalen, Ph.D., BCBA-D

Director of Research, psychologist and behavior analyst for RethinkEd

Dr. Christina Whalen, Director of Research, is a psychologist and behavior analyst and lives in La Jolla, CA. At Rethink Ed, she is the primary author of Tier 3 curriculum for Social Emotional Learning and assists with the development of professional development videos for educators. She has over 20 years of experience working with children, teens, and adults with special needs. She is the author of the book Real Life, Real Progress for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders: Strategies for Successful Generalization in Natural Environments and has presented at numerous education, behavior analysis, and psychology conferences.

Dr. Whalen was the initial founder and creator of TeachTown, a computer-assisted behavior analysis is intervention for children with developmental disorders. She also worked for various clinics, schools, and research programs. She received her PhD from University of California, San Diego and did postdoctoral training at UCLA and University of Washington

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