Bullying & How It Affects Teens' Lives

By Damon Verial
Social bullying can make an unpopular teen feel like an outcast.
Social bullying can make an unpopular teen feel like an outcast.

Teen bullying is an intention from one teen to another to exert pain -- physically or emotionally. Over time, continual bullying can result in severe consequences for the victim. In the teen years, when social identity becomes prime, bullying can be even more painful. Parents who suspect a child may be the victim of a bully should be well-informed on the subject of bullying.

What Bullying Is

Teen bullying is a struggle for power -- an unfair power for struggle with one teen having a clear advantage, whether it be physical power or social influence. Psychologist David Walsh points out this notion in his book, “Why Do They Act That Way?” emphasizing the role the teen brain plays in bullying. He states, “the teenage brain is built for power struggles.” But bullying, unlike most power struggles, is less of a struggle and more of a show of dominance. This is why violent bullies tend to choose smaller peers. On the same note, social bullies tend to choose teens who are already unpopular in the social arena.

Teens as Victims

It is not always clear to a parent why their teen is the victim of bullying. Perhaps their teen seems popular in school or appears physically strong. Even so, some teens are at risk of bullying because of how they behave. For example, a teen who avoids eye contact with a bully might be sending the message that he will back down from a fight. In general, teens with poor body-language skills are more likely to become the victims of bullying. Teens who overreact to teasing might also draw the attention of a bully who wants to draw attention to himself, as lack of attention is one reason bullies seek to bully.

Overall Consequences

The U.S. Health Behavior in School-Aged Children surveys, beginning in 1998, have brought to light the public health concern created by bullying. According to these surveys, all involved in bullying, whether they be the bullies and the victims or the observers and interveners, suffer long-term negative consequences. Schools with more bullying activity tend to have higher rates of crime, substance abuse and mental-health problems, for example. Bullies tend to have children who grow up to be bullies, and victims tend to have children who grow up to be victims. Bullying is a cyclical problem that impacts society as a whole, in addition to individuals.

Individual Consequences

The U.S. Health Behavior in School-Aged Children surveys mention mental distress, poor academic adjustment and reduced social interaction in victims and victims’ families as the main consequences of bullying. However, Edward Dragan, who researches the consequences of bullying, gives many more extreme outcomes of bullying in “The Bully Action Guide,” including suicide and school shootings. Teens, whose main focus is their social standing and self-identity, live life as if there is no tomorrow. For example, a teen whose entire social life has become one of victimization might feel she has nothing left to live for and she may begin to view suicide as a solution to her bullying problem.

Consequences as Indicators of Bullying

Some of the most common effects of bullying are the best indicators to let parents know their teen might be a victim. Falling grades, anxiety about going to school and an avoidance of extracurricular activities might reveal a deeper problem at school. Because teens are reluctant to talk directly to their parents about bullying, parents often must use indirect ways to figure out whether their teens are victims of bullying.

About the Author

Having obtained a Master of Science in psychology in East Asia, Damon Verial has been applying his knowledge to related topics since 2010. Having written professionally since 2001, he has been featured in financial publications such as SafeHaven and the McMillian Portfolio. He also runs a financial newsletter at Stock Barometer.