Study: Childhood Bullying ‘Casts Shadow’ Over Adult Life

Bullying-affects-adulthoodBullying is bad for your health,” the Daily Mail reports. The story comes from research which found that victims of childhood bullying had a higher risk of poor health, poverty and problems with social relationships in adulthood.

The study, which followed more than 1,400 participants from childhood to young adulthood, looked at three groups involved in bullying:

  • Victims only – who reported being bullied but never bullying others
  • Bullies only – who bullied, but had never been bullied themselves
  • Bully-victims – who had been victims of bullying and also bullied others

They found that “bully-victims” seemed to be the most vulnerable group, being six times more likely to have a serious illness, smoke regularly or develop a psychiatric disorder in adulthood. “Bullies only” were at no increased risk of problems in adulthood, once other risk factors had been taken into account.

  • This large study addresses an important issue – whether the damaging effects of bullying last into adulthood.

The study cannot prove that being bullied causes problems in adulthood. It is possible for example, that involvement in bullying is a marker for a pre-existing problem which would also lead to difficulties in adulthood, such as psychiatric problems or family dysfunction.

Still, this was a well-conducted study carried out over a lengthy period and its findings should be taken seriously.

Signs your child is being bullied

Sometimes children don’t talk to their parents or carers because they don’t want to upset them, or they think it will make the problem worse.

However, if you suspect that your child is being bullied, there are signs to look out for, according to the NSPCC. These include:

  • Coming home with damaged or missing clothes, without money they should have, or with scratches and bruises
  • Having trouble with homework for no apparent reason
  • Using a different route between home and school
  • Feeling irritable, easily upset or particularly emotional

For more advice and information visit the NHS Choices Bullying hub

Where did the story come from?

The study was carried out by researchers from the University of Warwick, UK and Duke University in the US. It was funded by the by the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, the William T. Grant Foundation, all in the US, and the UK Economic and Social Research Council.

The study was published in the peer-reviewed journal Psychological Science. Due to the study’s topicality, it was covered widely and for the most part fairly, in the media.

What kind of research was this?

This was a prospective cohort study which followed more than 1,400 participants from childhood into young adulthood.

Its aim was to assess whether involvement in childhood bullying had any effects on areas in adult life such as:

  • Health
  • Wealth
  • Social relationships
  • Educational achievements
  • Involvement in risky or illegal behaviours

Cohort studies enable researchers to follow large groups of people for lengthy periods and are useful to look at associations between behaviour (in this case, involvement in bullying) and later outcomes.

Their main limitation is whether they are able to take account of all the other factors (called confounders) which might affect those outcomes. This means cohort studies can never prove cause and effect, only highlight associations.

The researchers point out that being bullied or bullying others is a relatively common experience in childhood and adolescence. While the damaging effects of involvement in bullying in childhood are recognised, they say that this is the first study to investigate how it might affect adult life.

What did the research involve?

In 1993, the researchers recruited a random sample of three groups of children aged 9, 11 or 13 years, from 11 counties in North Carolina, 80% agreed to participate. Each child, or their caregiver, was assessed annually by structured interview, until the age of 16. Each participant was interviewed again at ages 19, 21, and 24 to 26 years. Of the 1,420 children, 89.6% were followed up into young adulthood.

At each assessment between 9 and 16 years old, children and their parents reported on whether the child had been bullied or teased, or had bullied others in the three months before the interview.

Those who had been involved in bullying were then asked for further details such as how often bullying had occurred and where (the focus in the current study was peer bullying at school, rather than for example, sibling bullying at home).

Definitions of bullying and the questions used in the interview were taken from a validated child and adolescent psychiatric assessment. Frequency of bullying and its onset were also assessed.

The definition of being bullied used in the study is that the child is a particular object of repeated mockery, physical attacks, or threats by peers or siblings.

The definition of bullying is where a child repeatedly engages in deliberate actions aimed at causing distress to another or attempts to force another to do something against his or her will by using threats, violence, or intimidation.

To assess bullying involvement, interviewers asked questions such as:

  • “Do you get teased or bullied at all by your siblings or friends and peers?”
  • “Is that more than other children?”
  • “Are other boys and girls mean to you?”
  • “Do you ever do things to upset other people on purpose or try to hurt them on purpose?”
  • “Do you ever try to get other people into trouble on purpose?”
  • “Have you ever forced someone to do something s/he didn’t want to do by threatening or hurting him/her?”
  • “Do you ever pick on anyone?”

Participants were categorised as:

  • Victims only (they never indicated that they had bullied others)
  • Bullies only (they never indicated that they had been a victim of bullying)
  • Bully-victims (they had indicated that they both bullied others and had been victims of bullying )
  • Not involved in bullying

When the children had become young adults, they were asked about the following issues.


For example, whether they had been diagnosed with a serious illness, been in a serious accident, or had a positive test result for sexually transmitted disease or whether they smoked. Weight and height measurements were also taken to work out their body mass index (BMI).

Risky or illegal behaviour

For example, they were asked whether they had been involved in fighting, property break ins, frequent drunkenness, frequent use of illegal drugs, frequency of one time sexual encounters with strangers. Official criminal charges were checked from court records.

Wealth, financial and educational status

They were asked about income and family size, whether they had completed high school or college, whether they had work or financial problems.

Social relationships

At the last adult assessment, participants were asked about their marital, parenthood and divorce status; and the quality of relationships with parents, partners and friends.

The researchers also assessed any disadvantages the child might have suffered – which they call “Childhood hardships” – using established risk scales. Hardships included, low socioeconomic status, unstable family structure, maltreatment at home and family dysfunction.

They also assessed psychiatric problems between 9 and 16, using formal diagnostic definitions. Psychiatric problems assessed included anxiety, depression, disruptive behaviour disorders and substance use disorders.

They analysed their results using standard statistical methods. The results were adjusted for both presence of ‘childhood hardships’ and childhood psychiatric disorders.

What were the basic results?

Nearly two thirds (62.5%) of the children said they had not been involved in bullying.

Nearly a quarter (23.6%) said they had been victims only, 7.9% said they had been bullies only and 6.1% had been bully-victims.
Both bully-victims and bullies were more likely to be male, but victim status did not differ by sex.

Over one third (37.8%) of victims and bully-victims had been chronically bullied (bullied at two or more time points).

Once they had adjusted for childhood hardships and psychiatric problems, the researchers found that both “victims only” and “bully-victims” were at risk of poorer health, poorer finances and poorer social relationships in adulthood, compared to those who had not been involved in bullying.

By contrast “pure bullies” were not at increased risk of poorer outcomes in adulthood.

Those who had been chronically bullied had a higher level of social problems and showed a trend to financial problems, compared to those who were only bullied at one time point.

Bully victims were six times more likely to have a serious illness, smoke regularly or develop a psychiatric disorder as adults, than those who had not been involved in bullying.

How did the researchers interpret the results?

Being bullied is not a harmless rite of passage but throws a “long shadow over affected people’s lives”, say the researchers.

They suggest that being bullied may alter physiological responses to stress or interact with genetic vulnerability.

Interventions in childhood are likely to reduce long-term health and social costs, they argue.


This long term study suggests that victims of bullying, in particular chronic bullying, suffer long term damage which lasts into adulthood. As the authors point out, early monitoring, assessment and interventions are vital to prevent or stop such destructive behaviour.

The study does have some limitations. It relied heavily on children and adults self-reporting in many areas of life, which could affect the reliability of its results. Also, as the authors point out, the findings may not apply to other populations, particularly since American Indians (Native Americans) were overrepresented and African Americans under-represented.

In their analysis the authors tried to take account of other factors in childhood which might influence adult prospects, such as family and psychiatric problems. However, in this type of study it is always possible that both measured and unmeasured confounders might have an effect on outcomes.

This is a complex area and it is possible that involvement in bullying is a marker for a pre-existing condition such as a psychiatric problem which could also damage prospects in adulthood. On the other hand, as the authors point out, it is possible that bullying was caused by psychiatric problems in childhood, a factor that was adjusted for in their analysis. This may have led to an underestimate of the long term effects.

This is a difficult area to research and this study overall provides useful initial insights into the potential prolonged effects of childhood events.

Analysis by Bazian. Edited by NHS Choices. Follow Behind the Headlines on Twitter.


“Bullying is bad for your health,” the Daily Mail reports. The story comes from research which found that victims of childhood bullying had a higher risk of poor health, poverty and problems with social relationships in adulthood.

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Child Health & Safety News Roundup: 11-09-2015 to 11-15-2015

twitter thumbIn this week’s Children’s Safety News: Prosecutors Weigh Teenage Sexting: Folly or Felony?

Welcome to Pediatric Safety’s weekly “Child Health & Safety News Roundup”- a recap of the past week’s child health and safety news headlines from around the world. Each day we use Twitter and Facebook to communicate relevant and timely health and safety information to the parents, medical professionals and other caregivers who follow us. Occasionally we may miss something, but we think overall we’re doing a pretty good job of keeping you informed. But for our friends and colleagues not on Twitter or FB (or who are but may have missed something), we offer you a recap of the past week’s top 15 events & stories.

PedSafe Child Health & Safety Headline of the Week:
“I am a Witness” – How A Powerful Anti-Bullying Message Became One Simple Emoji

To All Caregivers of Kids (Especially Special Needs): Two Words

son hugging his mother

Yesterday I had to leave work (again) because one of my kids was sick (again) and we went to the doctor (again). There was a tall young dad in the waiting room with a tiny infant. He juggled the supplies and the baby until he managed to find a bottle. Of course I made a fuss over the cuteness of the little bundle, despite the mortification of my own child who now stands 3 inches taller than me. The dad had a beard and was wearing skinny jeans so I assumed his disheveled hair was due to his hipsterness, but as we chatted he confessed that he wasn’t sure if he had showered in the past three days. Between their older toddler and the baby he and the mommy were completely overwhelmed. We commiserated about those days of pure survival, where it is just a minute by minute constant blur of diapers, laundry, bottles and burps – not to mention all the other icky stuff. Then the exhausted dad took a deep breath, looked my special needs child right in the eye, and said, “You better thank your mother.”

It is sad, but true – parenting any child, special needs or not, is literally a thankless job. Caregiving in general is clearly not valued in our society – just look at the pay rates. It is crucial in those early years (and all the years that follow) that those young beings are treated right, engaged, stimulated and loved. And yet many parents and caregivers never hear a thank you – and if they have special needs, the ones in their care may be unable to communicate, even if they are truly grateful.

So in this time of Thanksgiving, to all the parents, grandparents, caregivers, therapists, teachers and family friends let me say thank you. If you care enough to read this then you care about your role in a child’s life – maybe even a special needs child’s life – and you are doing a great job.

Thank you!The autism challenge - small

Ps – If you are seeing family or friends this holiday season, and you are caring for a special needs child, take the opportunity to educate them on whatever challenges your child is facing. The Autism Society put together this quick quiz… it’s a great way to get the conversation started. And again…thank you, for all you do!

Boys, Breasts and Puberty….Who Knew?

Sad and thoughtful hispanic teenage boyA friend of mine with a son just entering puberty recently discovered a little known fact: a large number (possibly a majority) of boys in early puberty develop breast tissue. Her son had a tender swollen lump under one of his nipples and when she took him to their pediatrician, she learned that anywhere from 40% to three-quarters of boys will develop this “breast bud”. Who knew?

For boys entering puberty, gynecomastia – development of breast tissue in males – tends to be confined to a breast bud of less than 2 inches across, right below the nipple. It can occur on just one side or under both nipples and is often quite sore, especially if the area is banged or bumped.

Puberty hormones are the culprit for this breast tissue growth, and it is a very normal – though seemingly little discussed – aspect of puberty in boys. The good thing is that it shouldn’t grow beyond a small bud, isn’t generally very visible (especially under clothes – consider a swim shirt in the summer) and goes away over time as the hormones settle down, generally within a year but it could take up to 2 years.

While this is a fairly common aspect of puberty and just takes time to resolve, it can still be worthwhile to have your son checked out by a pediatrician. I know my friend’s son found a lot of relief in the doctor’s words about how common and normal this is – and it’s always good to get an unusual lump looked at, especially as there are some other rare causes of breast development in males.

The Peanuts Movie is Sensory Friendly this Saturday

New sensory friendly logoAMC Entertainment (AMC) and the Autism Society have teamed up to bring families affected by autism and other special needs “Sensory Friendly Films” every month – a wonderful opportunity to enjoy fun new films in a safe and accepting environment.

The movie auditoriums will have their lights turned up and the sound turned down. Families will be able to bring in snacks to match their child’s dietary needs (i.e. gluten-free, casein-free, etc.), there are no advertisements or previews before the movie and it’s totally acceptable to get up and dance, walk, shout, talk to each other…and even sing – in other words, AMC’s “Silence is Golden®” policy will not be enforced during movie screenings unless the safety of the audience is questioned.

Peanuts Movie PosterDoes it make a difference? Absolutely! Imagine …no need to shhhhh your child. No angry stares from other movie goers. Many parents think twice before bringing a child to a movie theater. Add to that your child’s special needs and it can easily become cause for parental panic. But on this one day a month, for this one screening, everyone is there to relax and have a good time, everyone expects to be surrounded by kids – with and without special needs – and the movie theater policy becomes “Tolerance is Golden“.

This Saturday November 14th, at 10am local time, AMC and the Autism Society’s “Sensory Friendly Film” program will be showing The Peanuts Movie. Tickets are $4 to $6 depending on the location. To find a theatre near you, here is a list of AMC theatres nationwide participating in this fabulous program (note: to access full list, please scroll to the bottom of the page).

Coming later in November: The Hunger Games – Mockingjay – Part 2 (Tues, 11/24) and The Good Dinosaur (Sat, 11/28)


Editor’s note: The Peanuts Movie has been rated G by the Motion Picture Association of America. However, as always, please check the IMDB Parents Guide for a more detailed description of this film to determine if it is right for you and your child.

Asthma in the Cold – Tips for You and Your Child

Cold weather is a major trigger for asthma symptoms. Here are five tips for keeping asthma at bay as the winter temperatures plummet.

Asthma isn't temporaryCold weather can have a serious impact on the 5.4 million people with asthma in the UK. According to Asthma UK, three quarters of people with asthma say that cold air is a trigger for their symptoms and 90% reckon that having a cold or flu makes their asthma considerably worse.

Cher Piddock, a nurse for Asthma UK, says: “Hospital admissions for asthma traditionally peak during periods of particularly cold weather. This can be due to breathing cold air into the lungs, which can in turn trigger asthma, as well as picking up colds and flu.

“People whose asthma is well-controlled are more likely to be able to withstand the risks of winter months. You can help keep your asthma under control by making sure you have a regular asthma review with your doctor or asthma nurse and that you have a personal asthma action plan.”

Five Tips for Preventing Cold Weather Asthma Symptoms

Asthma UK has this advice on how to control your asthma symptoms during the cold weather:

  1. Keep taking your regular preventer medicines as prescribed by your doctor. (*”long-acting bronchodilators”)
  2. If you know that cold air triggers your asthma, take one or two puffs of your reliever inhaler (*”rescue” or “short-acting” inhaler) before going outside.
  3. Keep your blue reliever inhaler with you at all times.
  4. Wrap up well and wear a scarf over your nose and mouth – this will help to warm up the air before you breathe it in.
  5. Take extra care when exercising in cold weather. Warm up for 10-15 minutes and take one or two puffs of your reliever inhaler before you start.

Asthma Attacks in Winter

With the onset of very cold weather, it’s a good idea to make sure you and your friends and family know what to do if you have an asthma attack.

The key signs are:

  • Coughing more than usual
  • Getting short of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Feeling a tightness in your chest
  • Having difficulty speaking in full sentences

Read more about what to do in an asthma attack.

You can find more information on this website about managing asthma. If you have queries about any aspect of asthma, you can also call the Asthma UK free telephone helpline staffed by asthma nurse specialists, on 0800 121 6244.

*Asthma resources in the US:

Editor’s Note: *clarification provided for our US readers.