The Strange Effect of Bullying

Scads of bullying studies have focused on the victim but new research published Wednesday has put the bully in the hot seat.

The journal JAMA Psychiatry reported that not only do the effects of bullying last well into adulthood causing depression, panic disorder, and agoraphobia, the victim doesn't suffer the most—the aggressor does.

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The study of 1,420 kids found that: Those who are victimized by bullies are three to five times more likely to experience these psychological effects throughout their 20s. Then there are kids who are just plain bullies, who are four to five times more likely to exhibit "anti-social personality disorder" characterized by a lack of empathy, lying, and criminal behavior. There's also a third type of bully: Kids who are both victims and bullies. These kids suffer the most, running a five-fold risk of depression and greater than a 10-fold risk of various panic disorders with the girls more likely to develop agoraphobia (a fear of spaces that don't have easy escape routes) and boys to later develop suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Researchers accounted for factors such as family structure and dysfunction, economic status and psychiatric problems.

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"We found that 20 percent of kids who are bullied go on to bully others," says clinical psychologist William E. Copeland, Ph.D., of Duke University Medical Center. "The bullies are usually former victims themselves who struggle at home and have low social skills. But instead of stopping the cycle because they feel a sense of empathy, they internalize bullying as a way to fit into the social hierarchy. Unfortunately these people can often become bullies at work."

What can be done to stop a child from being bullied or turning into one? According to Copeland, examining a kid's experience at school is the first step. "When we think of bullying, we often try to analyze what problems are occurring at home but there are plenty of kids with healthy, happy families who are terrorized at school," he says. "It makes sense for us focus on peer influence since kids spend most of their time at school and learn social behavior there."

Parents and teachers can also encourage kids to speak up when they witness bullying. "The harasser counts on his audience being too intimidated to report his behavior but if the school has a zero-tolerance policy, bullies won't be able to rely on the public for support," says Copeland. 

If your kid is being pushed around at school, ask him to talk about it and try to stay calm so he won't feel guilty or self-conscious for sharing. Then notify the school; If your kid is the one pushing others around? You may want to get him or her counseling. And make sure they understand the consequences for their behavior. And ask the school to monitor his or her behavior. 

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