Can Bullying Lead to Failing Grades?

When bullying pervades a school, victims are not the only ones to suffer. Bullying creates an atmosphere of fear, self-doubt and worry that affects the instigators, the victims and onlookers. The emotional turmoil can cause a child to neglect his academics, leading to failing grades and lower standardized test scores, in addition to opening a hornet's nest of social-emotional issues for everyone involved.

Fear and Insecurity

Children and teens on the receiving end of a bully have increased anxiety, which manifests in physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches or difficulty sleeping, according to an article on the Michigan Association of School Administrators website 1. They can live in a constant state of fear that interferes with their learning and causes them to dislike school, perhaps even going to lengths to avoid going to school. Even if a child is not the current target, witnessing others being dominated and threatened by bullies can cause many of the same symptoms, and guilt for not doing more to stop it, in some cases. If the teachers and administrators fail to recognize the bullying problem and do not do anything to stop it or protect the victims, the students might feel as though the adults don't care about them and their insecurity can lead them to disengage from school.

Difficulty Concentrating

When a child is distracted by fear and anxiety, her thoughts center on what might happen to her after class, in the hallway, lunchroom or on the playground or bus or whether she will be the bully's next victim instead of paying attention in class. Her thoughts can swirl with questions of what she did wrong, self-accusation and loathing, and other confidence killers, instead of listening to the teacher and completing homework and assignments, according to a 2012 article on the website of the United Federation of Teachers 4. As a result, schoolwork suffers.

Declining Grades

According to study in the February 2011 edition of the "Journal of Early Adolescence," “A high level of bullying by schoolmates is consistently related to academic disengagement and poor grades.” Researchers found that consistent bullying can be a significant factor in dropping grades up to a letter and a half over three years 5. A sudden decline in a child's customary achievement level can be a sign that he is suffering from the effects of bullying.

Test Results

The academic effect of bullying doesn't stop with the report card 4. Dewey Cornell, a clinical psychologist and professor of education at the University of Virginia, reported on his research study to the 119th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association that "A bullying climate may play an important role in student test performance." He and co-author Anna Lacey found that the more pervasive the bullying culture at a school, the lower the school's standardized test scores tended to be. He recommended that the solution to the problem lies in schools addressing bullying as a schoolwide issue, not just an individual problem for the targeted students. When parents, administrators and teachers take the issue seriously and take steps to create a school atmosphere where children feel safe, they instill a feeling of academic success that keeps at-risk kids in school until graduation; and away from the delinquent pursuits they turn to for comfort when they don't find the answers they need at school.