In recent years, a steadily increasing volume of data has demonstrated that peer victimization — the clinical term for bullying — impacts hundreds of millions of children and adolescents, with the effects sometimes lasting years and, possibly, decades. The problem is even recognized as a global health challenge by the World Health Organization and the United Nations. And yet, researchers maintain there is still a limited understanding of how the behavior may physically shape the developing brain.
Bullying is usually defined as repeated and intentional verbal, physical, and anti-social behavior that seeks to intimidate, harm, or marginalize someone perceived as smaller, weaker, or less powerful. Among younger children, common forms of bullying include abusive language and physical harm. This behavior may grow subtler with age as adolescent bullies routinely exclude, insult, and mock their targets. Sometimes this behavior escalates into “mobbing” among groups of bullies in school, work, or cyberspace.
Researchers believe more than 3.2 million American students experience bullying every year. That’s about 1 percent of the nation’s total population. Among these students, about 10 to 15 percent experience “chronic” or persistent bullying that will last more than six continuous months. Experiencing chronic peer victimization is associated with lower academic achievement, higher unemployment rates, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, and self-harm and suicidal thoughts