Bullying Effects Last a Lifetime

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010 | CWK Producer

“Now I don't want to be alarming to parents, but kids who have chronic and serious bullying from a young age on, they're at risk for adult psychological difficulties and even suicide.”

– Sandra Graham, Ph.D., psychologist

Bullying continues to rear its ugly head. Perhaps once confined to the playground, online bullying is on the rise and according to a recent Common Sense Media survey, parents have a lot to learn when it comes to their kids' online behavior. Of concern, as well: Online behavior can include bullying and its effects can last way beyond childhood.

Bill says it started in grade school when he was a little overweight. He was bullied and called names.

"Faggot, gay, stupid, idiot, fat. That's about it. Faggot and gay were the ones they really hit on the most," says Bill, 17.

The bullying continued until all he felt was the hurt.

"By my eighth-grade year I had no self esteem. I was just pretty much like a walking shell. I really felt like I had nothing on the inside. I just felt like a walking shell, like there was nothing I could do, and I would always be upset," says Bill.

Today's online communities that invite cruelty are not helping the problem. New surveys show a major disconnect between parents and kids about cyberspace. According to Common Sense Media, 49 percent of parents say their child was 13 years or older before they went online unsupervised. But, 86 percent of kids say they went online before that with no supervision.

"Now I don't want to be alarming to parents, but kids who have chronic and serious bullying from a young age on, they're at risk for adult psychological difficulties and even suicide," says Sandra Graham, Ph.D., psychologist.

That's why experts recommend that parents do everything they can to stop the bullying and to understand what their kids are up to online. And help their child who might be bullied understand that the label "victim" is one they can change.

"You have an opportunity to redefine your identity, and not necessarily carry your victim reputation with you. We want kids to know and understand that this is not something that is going to be with you for the rest of your life," says Graham.

Bill says he will do his best to put the bullying behind him even though he says it robbed him of his childhood.

"I'm starting to grow up. I know I'm never going to get that back. I can try to do the best right now to live my life to the fullest," says Bill.

Tips for Parents

Bullying is aggressive behavior that is intentional and involves an imbalance of power or strength. Usually, it is repeated over time. Traditionally, bullying has involved actions such as: hitting or punching (physical bullying), teasing or name-calling (verbal bullying), or intimidation through gestures or social exclusion.

Today's technology has given children and youth a new means of bullying each other – know as cyberbullying. Unlike being bullied on the playground or the school bus, cyberbullying occurs any time of the day or night and its online messages and images can be distributed quickly and often anonymously to a very wide audience.

According to a recent Common Sense Media survey examining how social networks are affecting kids and families, parents have a lot to learn when it comes to their children's behaviors online: 49% of parents say their child was age 13 or older before starting unsupervised surfing, but just 14% of teens say they actually waited this long.

The results of the poll illustrate a continuing disconnect between parents and kids when it comes to kids' digital lives. The survey of both teens and parents found that many teens use the Internet as a forum for gossip, sharing and blowing off steam, but others, unbeknownst to their parents, are also engaging in bullying and risqué behavior online.

When it comes to understanding our kids' online behaviors and use of social networks like Facebook and MySpace, experts suggest parents use technology to manage technology. Wired Safety.org recommends parents regularly Google their children's names, nicknames, even addresses, to see if anything unsavory has been posted about them. Others recommend filtering software which limits the things kids can do online, and the information they can reveal about themselves. Learn how to examine your Web browser's "History" files, or cache. Even if you don't do it, make sure your children know it's possible for you to know where they've been.

Wired Safety suggests parents use these strategies to help their kids develop an awareness and sensitivity to online bullying: