Here are three statistics that could make any parent quiver: every 7 minutes a child somewhere is bullied, and 85 percent of the time, there is no intervention of any kind, and, an estimated 160,000 children miss school each day because of bullying.
I walk with a limp from being born with Spina Bifida Myelomeningocele, a developmental congenital disorder. I was also interested in choir and theatre, neither of which was considered manly in my small town. Together, these made me a target of bullying from elementary school through my freshman year of high school. But I also wonder what has happened to the people who bullied me. What kind of lives do bullies live?
I eventually found out the fate of some of the youth who’d bullied me, including one of my worst tormenters, “John.” John’s main purpose in school seemed to be making my life miserable. Every day, he would walk past me pretending to limp, push me down, bump into me, and call me a host of names: “cripple,” “limping Louie,” “retard,” etc. In sixth grade, these expanded to “You’re so gay” when I was chosen to be a singer in the school choir. Other kids loved lunch and recess, but I hated them because I knew that not only would John unleash another round of taunting, but others would join him.
When I was in college and had not seen John for some time, I flipped through the paper and was stunned to see John’s name on the obituaries page. I later learned that John died after a night of binge drinking, when he passed out and drowned in his vomit. I never knew why John tormented me.
Bullying is complex, with many roles. About 6 percent of all the children who are involved in bullying have filled roles as both a bully and a victim. The outcomes for these children are often the worst. These types of children tend to have fewer social skills and be more reactive than their peers. They are often socially isolated and are bullied more frequently than passive/submissive victims are. Children who bully tend to witness more violence and other forms of aggression, both in their families and the media.
A broad expanse of research has been conducted over the years, and what we know is that bullying is linked to a slew of negative outcomes for all involved. Compared to those who have not been bullied, those who have been bullied are more likely to suffer poor health, financial, and social outcomes in adulthood. They are also at increased risk for psychosomatic problems and self-harm. Given these outcomes, I consider myself lucky in that I have been able to lead a normal life.
Compared to those who do not bully, kids who have bullied others are more likely to engage in risky or illegal behavior, including substance use. In addition, kids who bully are at higher risk for a range of negative educational, health, and employment outcomes. It is estimated that 1 out of 4 elementary-school bullies will have a criminal record by the time they turn age 30.
Growing up, I frequently heard, “Boys will be boys,” used to condone bullying. But that’s an excuse; there are things adults and kids can do. Bully Police USA, a watchdog organization that advocates for bullied children, has a webpage dedicated to bullying prevention programs. In addition, Child Trends just published a report on what works in programs that aim to prevent bullying behavior, based on rigorous evaluation research.
October is National Bullying Prevention Month. For us to change the statistics and outcomes, we need to change our outlook of bullying as normal. It isn’t. It’s a source and result of considerable pain and it’s preventable.
By Michael Angeloni
Research Reporting by Kaylor Garcia
Infographic: Kids Who Bully
Child Trends 5: 5 Things to Know about Kids who Bully