The study tracked hundreds of children from kindergarten through high school.
‘About 24% of the children who had participated in the study suffered chronic bullying throughout their school years from kindergarten through high school.’
While bullying is generally popular in high school, the study found that bullying was more severe and frequent in elementary school and tended to taper off for most students as they got older.
According to the lead researcher, Gary Ladd, PhD, a psychology professor at Arizona State University, 24% of the children in the study suffered chronic bullying throughout their school years, which was consistently related to lower academic achievement and less engagement in school.
"It's extremely disturbing how many children felt bullied at school," Ladd said. "For teachers and parents, it's important to know that victimization tends to decline as kids get older, but some children never stop suffering from bullying during their school years."
Previous studies have focused on the psychological effects of bullying on children, such as anxiety or depression.
This is the first long-term study that has analyzed a connection between bullying and academic achievements by tracking children for more than a decade from kindergarten through high school.
Effects of Bullying
The study analyzed 383 students studying in kindergarten (190 boys, 193 girls) from public schools in Illinois.
Study included teacher evaluations, standardized reading and math test scores in addition to annual surveys administered by researchers to the children.
Children described their own experiences about bullying in questions that asked whether they had been hit, picked on or verbally abused by other kids.
Perception of bullying was different in children as some children were more sensitive to bullying. But researchers said that parents and teachers should not dismiss what may seem like minor bullying.
"Frequently, kids who are being victimized or abused by other kids don't want to talk about it," Ladd said. "I worry most about sensitive kids who are not being taken seriously and who suffer in silence. They are being told that boys will be boys and girls will be girls and that this is just part of growing up."
Although researchers lost track of approximately one-quarter of the youngsters during the lengthy study, the children from the study were followed into early adulthood.
Approximately 77% of the children in the study were white, 18% were African-American, and 4% were Hispanic, biracial or had other backgrounds. Almost one-quarter of the children came from families with low annual incomes ($0- $20,000), 37% had low to middle incomes ($20,001-$50,000), and 39% had middle to high incomes (more than $50,000).
The researchers found the following:
- Children who suffered chronic levels of bullying during their school years (24% of sample) had lower academic achievement, a greater dislike of school and less confidence in their academic abilities
- Children who had experienced moderate bullying that increased later in their school years (18%) had similar experience
- Children who suffered decreasing bullying (26%) showed fewer academic effects that were similar to youngsters who had experienced little or no bullying (32 percent). This showed that if bullying decreased, some children could recover
The study found that boys were significantly more likely to suffer chronic or increasing bullying than girls.
"Some kids are able to escape victimization, and it looks like their school engagement and achievement does tend to recover," Ladd said. "That's a very hopeful message."
The tracking children for more than a decade was challenging as some families moved across the United States. The study began in school districts in Illinois, but the children were living in 24 states by the fifth year of the study.
"People moved and we had to track them down all over the country," Ladd said. "We put people in cars or on planes to see these kids."
In order to curb bullying and victimization, schools should have anti-bullying programs, and parents should ask their children if they are being bullied or excluded at school.
"There has been a lot of consciousness raising and stories of children being bullied and committing suicide, and that has raised public concern," he said. "But more needs to be done to ensure that children aren't bullied, especially for kids who suffer in silence from chronic bullying throughout their school years."
The research, which was published online in the Journal of Educational Psychology
, was part of the Pathways Project, a larger longitudinal study of children's social, psychological and academic adjustment in school that is supported by the National Institutes of Health.
- Gary W. Ladd et al. Peer Victimization Trajectories From Kindergarten Through High School: Differential Pathways for Children's School Engagement and Achievement?. Journal of Educational Psychology; (2017)