Children who bully others may face more serious problems than visiting the principal’s office. Childhood bullying behaviors that persist into adulthood are believed to be the result of psychiatric disorders. A study by the School of Social Work at Saint Louis University found that adults with a lifetime history of bullying are more likely to exhibit psychological problems and substance abuse issues than non-bullying adults.
The study looked at survey data obtained from more than 40,000 US Citizens over the age of 18, focusing on the prevalence of psychological disorders and substance abuse among a population of racially, economically, and socially diverse people. The information was collected through face-to-face interviews by trained US Census Bureau worker who asked participants about their history of drug and alcohol dependence, psychiatric disorders, and family history of psychiatric and social disorders. The participants were also asked if they had ever tried to physically or emotionally intimidate someone in their lifetime: those who answered “yes” were labeled as having a history of bullying behaviors.
Statistical analysis of the survey showed that individuals most likely to display lifetime bullying behaviors were American Indian and Asian, native U.S. citizens, western, male, had a high-school education or lower, and earned less than $35,000/year. Lifetime bullies were three to five times more likely to display antisocial behaviors than their non-bullying counterparts, such as fighting, animal cruelty, harassing and threatening behavior, and stealing. They were also more likely to display psychiatric disorders, such as depression, paranoia, conduct disorders, and substance abuse. A family history of antisocial behavior was also found to be high among lifetime bullies.
Researchers noted a few limitations of this study. First, the analysis could not conclude the causative relationship between bullying behaviors and psychological illness, meaning it is difficult to determine if antisocial disorders cause the sufferer to become a bully or vice versa. Secondly, the data was collected through self-reports that required the subjects to remember events in their childhood. In some cases, older adults may have misrepresented their adolescence due to difficulty recalling experiences from so long ago.
Research has shown the negative effect bullying can have on tormented children. Bullying has now even made its way to the internet. An international study on bullying in schools showed an association between victimization and higher self-reports of illnesses, and psychological distress. Today’s young bullies may be tomorrow’s adults who need help.