Mind Matters — Bullying and Its Adverse Effects

“Sticks and stones my break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” So goes the old children’s rhyme, but not so purports recent research on bullying, published in the Lancet Psychiatry, a British medical journal.

This study reports that bullying of children by their peers may have more prolonged and profound deleterious effects than parental abuse. No, this doesn’t give a pass to parents. Parental abuse of children does not lose its negative effects simply because bullying by peers might be even worse.

Bullying can be teasing, spreading rumors, name calling, intimidating, mocking, excluding an individual from a group, threatening, physical pushing even to point of physical harm. It can also be disturbing or taking others belongings. What is indicative of all these behaviors is a disrespect and an objectifying of the person being bullied.

Bullying is aggressive and mean spirited behavior in response to another person’s uniqueness. All sorts of “reasons” are exploited in the service of the bully: racial, sexual, religious differences; disabilities; weight; appearance; dress; the list goes on.

I clearly remember being bullied as a child. For a brief time it was from some fourth grade girl classmates. By fifth grade, I had changed enough not to care to be in their cliques. The shunning stopped. What was more prolonged for me, however, was a set of boy relatives who called me names—“fatty bumps” was one—whenever I would see them at their grandmother’s house. No one ever corrected them; no one told them to stop the abuse. That may be one of the insidious problems of bullying. The bully’s behavior, if not condoned, is tolerated (perhaps because the bully is giving voice to feelings still held by secretly by adults). Meanwhile, the victim is expected to “toughen up.” After all, it wasn’t sticks or stones, right?

Well, actually, there is a lot wrong with bullying. While parental abuse of children has been known to have deleterious effects into adulthood, it is now apparent that bullying of children can have an even greater effect, causing depression and anxiety and feelings of low self-esteem into adulthood. Names do hurt and leave more scars than do stones.