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May 01, 2015

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Peer bullying may cause more damage than adult maltreatment: study

May 1, 2015
Courtesy of the American 
Academy of Pediatrics, The Lancet
and World Science staff

Chil­dren bul­lied by peers have si­m­i­lar or worse long-term men­tal health out­comes than those mal­treated by adults, a new study says.

The study of more than 5,000 young adults was pre­sented Tues­day at the Pe­di­at­ric Ac­a­dem­ic So­ci­eties an­nu­al meet­ing in San Die­go and was pub­lished in the journal The Lan­cet Psy­chi­a­try at the same time.

Gov­ern­ments tend to fo­cus ef­forts on family mal­treat­ment, leav­ing the bul­ly­ing is­sue mostly to schools, but that should change, said study au­thor and psy­chol­o­gist Di­et­er Wolke of the Uni­vers­ity of War­wick in the U.K.

“S­ince one in three chil­dren world­wide re­port be­ing bul­lied, and it is clear that bul­lied chil­dren have si­m­i­lar or worse men­tal health prob­lems lat­er in life to those who are mal­treated, more needs to be done to ad­dress this im­bal­ance,” he said.

“Be­ing bul­lied is not a harm­less rite of pas­sage or an in­ev­i­ta­ble part of grow­ing up; it has se­ri­ous long-term con­se­quences.” The study doc­u­mented anx­i­e­ty, de­pres­sion and “self-harm/sui­cidal­ity” as prom­i­nent long-term out­comes, and al­so found that in gen­er­al, chil­dren and ado­les­cents were more likely to suf­fer abuse from peers than from par­ents or oth­er adults.

Re­search­ers com­pared young adults in the Un­ited States and the Un­ited King­dom who had been doc­u­mented vic­tims of mal­treat­ment, bul­ly­ing or both, as part of past sur­veys known as the Avon Lon­gi­tu­di­nal Study of Par­ents and Chil­dren in the U.K. and the Great Smoky Moun­tain Study in the U.S.

In the first group, about 9 per­cent of chil­dren were ex­posed to mal­treat­ment only and 30 per­cent to bul­ly­ing on­ly, the study found, while in the sec­ond group those num­bers came to 15 per­cent and 16 per­cent re­spec­tive­ly. 

The study al­so con­clud­ed that in both groups, some­what un­der 10 per­cent suf­fered both bul­ly­ing and mal­treat­ment—indeed, mal­treat­ment from adults was as­so­ci­at­ed with great­er like­li­hood of peer bul­ly­ing.


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Children who have been bullied by peers have similar or worse long-term mental health outcomes than children maltreated by adults, according to a study presented this week. The study of more than 5,000 young adults was presented Tuesday at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in San Diego and was published in The Lancet Psychiatry at the same time. Governments tend to focus more efforts on family maltreatments, leaving the bullying issue to the schools, but this should change, said study author and psychologist Dieter Wolke of the University of Warwick in the U.K. “Since one in three children worldwide report being bullied, and it is clear that bullied children have similar or worse mental health problems later in life to those who are maltreated, more needs to be done to address this imbalance,” he said. “Being bullied is not a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up; it has serious long-term consequences.” The study documented anxiety, depression and “self-harm/suicidality” as prominent long-term outcomes, and also found that in general, children and adolescents were more likely to suffer abuse from peers than from parents or other adults. Researchers compared young adults in the United States and the United Kingdom who had been documented victims of maltreatment, bullying or both, as part of past surveys known as the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children in the U.K. and the Great Smoky Mountain Study in the U.S. In the first group, about 9 percent of children were exposed to maltreatment only and 30 percent to bullying only, the study found, while in the second group those numbers came to 15 percent and 16 percent respectively. The study also concluded that in both groups, somewhat under 10 percent suffered both bullying and maltreatment—indeed, maltreatment from adults was associated with greater likelihood of peer bullying.