Teen Brain: Long Term Effects of Bullying

Nov 18, 2016

Let’s “get through” middle school and high school and the effects of bullying will be behind us. Once the student is an adult, they can start over and move past the effects of bullying, right? WRONG.

In the wake of so many recent tragedies involving bullying, it’s abundantly clear that bullying is not a “right of passage” and the effects can be lasting, long after the actual bullying has stopped.

Research indicates that those who have been a victim of bullying as a child, including physical, emotional and cyber bullying, are at a higher risk for depression, anxiety, substance abuse and suicidal thoughts or actions. Victims of bullying are also more likely to have school truancy issues and engage in fights.

In addition to the psychological and psychosocial lasting effects of bullying, additional research suggests that bullying can actually have neurological effects years after the bullying has subsided. It is now thought that bullying can leave an imprint on a child’s brain at a crucial time of development.

The human brain continues to grow and develop throughout adolescence. Neurological scars left by bullying has been shown to resemble the same scars left by physical and sexual abuse as a young child. Bullying alters levels of stress hormones in the victim’s brains. According to recent research by Tuft’s University, chronic levels of increased stress hormones has been linked with an increased risk of drug and alcohol abuse. It is worth noting that “chronic” doesn’t necessarily mean over the course of months or even years. The research indicated that it took as little as four episodes of increased stress hormone to show this result.

This comparison urges us, as parents and providers, to take a closer look at our anti bullying policies. Parents need to use parental control software that alerts them when bullying activity or language is detected so they can proactively support their child. When we view bullying as not just a social and emotional issue but also a neurological one, an even stronger focus on anti- bullying programs in schools and the community need to be implemented.