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Bullying's Long Shadow

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Sticks and stones may break your bones, but both those and words will lower your annual gross adjusted income.

According to a new study published in the August edition of Psychological Science, victims of bullying, including those who go on to bully others, are at increased risk of bad health, poor finances, and unstable relationships, years after bullying occurs.

Researchers from the University of Warwick, in England, and Duke University, in Durham, N.C., used the 1,420 North Carolina children who participated in the Great Smoky Mountain Study of 1993. Researchers followed up with those children several times between the ages of 9 and 26 years old, with just under 90 percent of participants remaining in the study.

Bullying leads to different outcomes depending on the child's role, according to the study. Those purely victimized by bullying may endure social-emotional and physical problems and might not perform well in school. It can also cause a hit to income.

Pure bullies—those who never "get a taste of their own medicine," as the saying goes—tend to actually be socially savvy and may even be popular. But they're also likelier to commit crimes later in life.

The worst fates, though, befall those whom the paper's authors term "bully-victims," or children victimized by bullying who nevertheless perpetuate the bullying of others. The study marks these children as likelier to be impulsive, quick to anger, lacking self-esteem, socially inept, and unpopular. More than being victims of bullies, they are possibly already suffering from behavioral or emotional problems, which bullying may just exacerbate.

Among all those with roles in bullying, some of the most substantial negative effects across groups occurred with regard to wealth:

Bullies, victims, and bully-victims all encountered some problems later in life, though bully-victims did worst.

The study says that, when adjusted for other childhood problems like mental disorders, bullies actually experienced relatively little negative impact. And from the chart, it appears that victims who don't go on to bully others appear relatively resilient overall, though certainly they aren't positively impacted. But for bully-victims, it's all bad news.

"Being bullied is not a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up, but throws a long shadow over affected children's lives," the report concludes.

The authors advocate that schools and counselors be quick to seize on interventions, since abuse now can develop into abuse later; problems won't solve themselves.

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