New study: Bullying hurts learning

A long-term study tracking Melbourne school students has uncovered evidence that children bullied in primary school are being left behind in learning.

Being subjected to a high level of frequent bullying at primary school has been linked to a decline in academic performance, according to a new study by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute.

The study, published in Academic Pediatrics, finds that children who are bullied have a poorer performance and the impact is greater for girls than boys.

Those who are physically victimised are around six to nine months behind their peers on measures of academic performance.

The study is the first to look at child-reported bullying and using NAPLAN as the marker of academic achievement.

One in three boys and one in four girls aged eight to nine are experiencing weekly bullying at their primary school.

The institute says that bullying can take many forms: physical victimisation (pushing and hitting), verbal victimisation (teasing and threatening), and relational (spreading rumours and being left out).

Boys are more likely to be physically victimised, while there is no gender difference for teasing and name calling.

The findings are based on surveys of 965 primary school students, in metropolitan Melbourne, involved in the institute’s Childhood to Adolescence Transition Study (CATS), a longitudinal study of children as they approach adolescence.

The study, which started in 2012, aims to improve the understanding of what influences the health and emotional adjustment of children approaching their teens.

Serious Consequences of Bullying

The institute says the latest findings provide strong evidence of the need to invest in the prevention of bullying and the promotion of positive peer relationships from the earliest years of school.

The consequences of bullying are serious, the institute notes, with victims at increased risk of mental health problems, including self-harm and suicide. The impact of childhood bullying can persist into later life, potentially affecting not only mental health but also success in education.

Bullying is most common during primary school with rates peaking during the mid to late primary school years, the institute says.

‘We call this the “juvenile phase of development” as it’s the time just before puberty,’ says the study’s lead author, Dr Lisa Mundy.

‘This is the stage where peers become more important to kids and they start to become aware of group hierarchies, which may explain why there is such an increase in bullying at this age.’

The findings provide compelling evidence for the benefits of more bullying prevention in primary schools, the institute says.

‘Teachers have an essential role in maintaining good relationships between children in primary school and the tackling of bullying,’ says Professor George Patton, the study’s senior author.

‘Their success in doing so will determine not only the future mental health of these children but also their success in education,’ says Professor Patton.

Dr Mundy says bullying is a worldwide health problem. ‘We need to better equip schools and teachers to deal with the prevention of bullying to minimise the potential long term effects it can have on a child’s social and emotional development.’

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