According to researchers at University College London (UCL), students who exhibit symptoms of attention deficit disorder, depression and a higher than average intelligence are disproportionately at risk of becoming victims of bullying. Other factors that increase children’s chances of being bullied include risk-taking and a high body mass index. Professor Jean-Baptiste Pingault, a researcher at UCL, insists that testing early for genetic predispositions to these victimizing traits are crucial to meeting the problem head-on. If unobserved, Pingault believes that these traits will not only lead to bullying in adolescence but also a larger scope of negative consequences that will affect the targeted children throughout their lifetimes. The bullying Pingault and other researchers of UCL have observed both acts in response to noted mental health differences, as well as exacerbates them.
A Lifetime Of Consequences
UCL has been conducting the study from which they have based their results (the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children) since the early 1990s. Responses were collected from 5,000 participants out of which each gender is approximately equally represented. While the study is comprehensive and provides a plan of action (genetic testing for bullying vulnerabilities) whose goal is the reduction of bullying among adolescents, a lack of focus is given to the potentially detrimental long-term effects of bullying. With only an abstract understanding of these effects, the urgency that is required to halt bullying is not communicated. This lack of understanding could lead to parents and teachers not efficiently utilizing the technology available to intercept bullying (a technique referred to as polygenic risk scoring that tests for a child’s genetic predispositions to the traits linked to bullying). A greater emphasis on the long-term consequences of bullying on victims’ mental health is needed in order to impel those in the position to implement the strategy of genetic risk testing within school systems to do so.
It’s Not Just The Victims
While little detailed information is available regarding the long-term effects of childhood bullying on healthy brain development, clinical psychologist William Copeland of Duke University Medical Center has noted the increased risk of depression, anxiety and suicidal tendencies that bullying victims are likely to experience into adulthood. Other studies have linked those who have been the bullies to the possession of higher instances of poor mental health. A study presented at the 2010 Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association found that bullies, not their victims, have a higher risk of developing substance abuse problems, depression, anxiety and hostility into adulthood.
The Bullied, The Bullies, And The Bullied Bullies
Another study positions adults who have been bullied in adolescence, who bullied in adolescence, and who experienced both positionalities as more likely to attain lesser educational achievements, earn less and have poorer overall health than those who did not experience bullying in any form. Additionally, those who bullied in adolescence and who both bullied and were bullied experienced higher rates of engagement with risky behavior (including drug experimentation and unsafe sex) than either the victims of bullying or those who had never experienced bullying in any form. Those who had experienced both positionalities of the bully and the bullied faced the worst long-term effects.
Understanding The Consequences
The dearth of attention paid to the short and long-term effects of bullying from the perspective of all three potential positionalities inhibits the effectiveness of University College London’s Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. Without an acknowledgment of the varying causes and effects of bullying on victims, bullies, and the bullied bullies, effective actions that will serve to deter the existence of bullying at large cannot be taken and the different forms of engagement with bullying and their consequences will fail to be understood.