Does childhood bullying scar for life?


New study finds childhood bullying to be associated with poorer health outcomes well into adulthood.

With the rise of the Internet, it seems that in recent years bullying has become a serious problem in our schools and has driven kids to depression, anxiety, and even suicide. Tragic incidences have caught the eye of the public. Fortunately, many schools and parents are no longer taking these issues lightly.

Researchers have begun to investigate the continuing effects that childhood bullying has had on psychological distress throughout adolescence and even early adulthood. While bullying may have recently gained attention in the media, it is not a new trend. Even without the Internet, bullying has always existed and been a matter of concern. But what is the full extent of the effects of childhood bullying? Researchers Takizawa, Maughan, & Arseneault sought to investigate the adverse effects of bullying in the even longer-term, up to forty years later.

The study was published in this month’s issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry. While the findings are new, the researchers have conducted it over the course of almost half a century. In the 1960’s, researchers measured childhood bullying among seven year-old children by surveying their parents about the frequency of which their child was bullied. The researchers re-measured bullying among the participants at age eleven. They then tracked outcomes of psychological distress among participants multiple times throughout adulthood.

The study found that slightly more than one fourth of the participants were bullied during childhood, with fifteen percent of them bullied frequently. The results were that being bullied at all during childhood was associated with higher psychological distress at age fifty and an increased risk for depression. Bullying was also associated with poorer general health and reduced cognitive functioning at age fifty. What’s more, fifty year-olds who had been frequently bullied in their childhood were more likely to have lower levels of education, lower perceived quality of life, were more likely to be alone, and have more likely to have economic difficulties.

According to the study, childhood bullying is associated with not only psychological distress, but economic distress as well. While we cannot assume causation, the findings still have important implications. For example, the researchers suggest that the findings could be helpful for designing early intervention programs as well as identifying targets who might be at high risk for adversity later on. Childhood bullying has always occurred and it is highly unlikely that it will ever disappear completely. However, just because it has always occurred does not mean it should be dismissed as a natural part of growing up. Childhood bullying victimization can have lasting adverse health outcomes that are extremely important to address.


Ryu Takizawa, Barbara Maughan, Louise Arseneault. Adult Health Outcomes of Childhood Bullying Victimization: Evidence From a Five-Decade Longitudinal British Birth CohortAmerican Journal of Psychiatry, 2014; DOI:10.1176/appi.ajp.2014.13101401


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