Bullying among young students in Australian primary schools is having damaging effects on their academic performance, according to new research from the Murdoch Children’s Institute.
The institute’s latest research has found one third of boys aged 8-9 years are experiencing bullying on a weekly basis at school. In comparison, one quarter of girls the same age are also victims of frequent bullying.
Researchers used unique methods in their research, looking at child-reported bullying and using NAPLAN results as markers for academic achievement.
MCRI’s Dr Lisa Mundy said bullying was most common during primary school as children entered the “juvenile phase of development” prior to puberty.
“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,” Dr Mundy said.
Bullying can take many forms, from physical confrontations to covert styles which include rumour-spreading and cyberbullying.
Researchers found physically bullied students were anywhere from six to nine months behind peers in academic performance.
Boys were more likely to be physically bullied, however overall girls suffered more significantly in terms of poorer academic outcomes when bullied in any way.
“For physical bullying, whether combined with verbal bullying or not, we found for both boys and girls it was around closer to nine months delay in their learning,’’ Dr Mundy said.
“For girls, it was more pervasive and around more aspects of their learning, whereas for boys it was just around reading and numeracy,’’ she explained.
She said bullying could have very serious consequences for victims such as an 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 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.”
The study used longitudinal data from 1200 participants in the MCRI’s Childhood to Adolescence Transition Study (CATS). The full research results are published in the Academic Pediatrics journal.