School Bullying and Depression Linked in Adolescents

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Conventional Wisdom and Anti-Bullying Laws

The conventional wisdom states bullying creates depression in adolescents. Dr. Kochel’s research challenges that assertion. When asked about anti-bullying laws in America, Dr. Kochel replied,

Our study results do not lend support for the view that victims of bullying are at increased risk for depression, specifically, during the early adolescent years; however, extensive research documents the social, academic, and psychological risks associated with being victimized by peers repeatedly over time. Legislation that addresses bullying in schools is important because it has the potential to enhance the public’s awareness of bullying as an important social issue – one with potentially dire consequences – and, in turn, decrease the incidence of bullying in schools.

While anti-bullying laws have become a popular way to modify behaviors in students, it’s also important to examine the cause of victimizing behavior. Since depression symptoms appear to lend themselves to victimization, rather than vice versa, findings of this nature put prevention into the hands of parents and teachers, rather than lawmakers. According to Dr. Kochel,

It is essential that parents and teachers recognize bullying as a serious issue and intervene promptly to minimize its negative impact on youth development. Parents should dialogue with their child about the nature of their peer relationships and also make efforts to volunteer in their child’s school as a way of learning about their child’s interactions with peers in the classroom, on the playground, and in the lunchroom. School personnel may wish to implement one of several research-based bullying interventions, which are designed to equip educators and students with the tools to effectively address bullying. We know that social experiences in school have implications for functioning throughout the life course, so promoting positive peer relations, and intervening in the case of negative peer relationships, such as bullying, is of great importance.

Lawmakers and schools are cracking down on bullying: Photo by Eddie-S

Detection of Depression Key To Prevention

Adolescents are at increased risk for depression between 4th and 6th grades. Hormonal changes at puberty, the need to ‘fit in’ with peers, academic pressures, and the complexities of family life can combine to make children more susceptible to depression. With active social engagement, however, pre-adolescents can reduce the amounts of depression in their lives, so parents and teachers need to be more proactive in understanding depression and preventing it in at-risk children.

For parents afraid of their child being bullied, teaching and encouraging kids to be actively engaged socially can provide more protection from bullies than any legislature could ever accomplish.

References: 

Kochel, K., Ladd, G. & Rudolph, K.  Longitudinal Associations among Youths’ Depressive Symptoms, Peer Victimization, and Low Peer Acceptance: An Interpersonal Process Perspective. (2012). Child Development. Accessed February 12, 2012.

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