Teen bullying harm can linger for years

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Bullying can make life miserable in the short term for teens, but its impact can also linger into young adulthood, researchers report.

The effects of bullying include depression and poor performance in school.

How bullied teens perceive themselves contributes to these outcomes, says Janette Norrington, a doctoral student in sociology at the University of Michigan and author of the paper, which appears in Youth & Society.

The study also indicates that verbal abuse and peer harassment do more harm than physical victimization or social exclusion.

Previous research has shown that youths suffer short-term mental health consequences, but researchers know less about the negative, long-term impact between the ages 18 to 24.

Norrington used longitudinal data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics to examine teen self-concept as a mediator in the relationship between adolescent peer victimization and psychological distress in emerging adulthood.

Self-concept, the image people have of themselves or self worth, links teen bully victimization and later mental health, researchers say. Bullying includes physically harming, making fun of, excluding, and spreading rumors about a person.

“Bully victimization damages how people view themselves in adolescence and that negative view can linger into adulthood, contributing to poor mental health,” Norrington says.

Norrington examined the responses of more than 1,400 adolescents in 2002 and 2007, who were questioned about the frequency that classmates hit them and picked on them, had their things (money and lunch) taken, and were left out of friends’ activities. In 2009 and 2013, as adults, researchers asked how often in the past month they felt nervous, hopeless, sad, and worthless.

Peer victimization still associated with higher levels of psychological distress, but the impact lessened among those who had high self-esteem, the study shows.

Intervention and mental health programs should focus on enhancing the self-concept of adolescent bully victims, Norrington says, perhaps through emphasizing peer support to help youth feel valued and develop self-confidence.

In addition, adult mental health programs can also address former bully victims’ self-concept and help them process their past peer victimizations to improve their mental health, Norrington says.

Source: University of Michigan