Bullying in school hampers skill development, healthy adulthood

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Key research finding

Miguel Sarzosa, an assistant professor of economics in Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management, finds that victimization depletes an average middle school child’s noncognitive skills by 40%. This skill depletion causes the child to become 34% more likely to experience bullying again.

While bullying negatively impacts the development of both cognitive and noncognitive skills, the effects of victimization are much more severe for noncognitive skill accumulation.

Noncognitive skills — also referred to as socioemotional or soft skills — include the ability to recognize and control emotions and reactions, establish and maintain positive relationships, make responsible decisions, and set and achieve positive goals.

Sarzosa finds that children who start middle school with less developed noncognitive skills are more likely to be bullied – those scoring in the bottom 10% for noncognitive skills are twice as likely to be bullied than those in the top 10% and 36% more likely to be bullied than the average student.

This snowball effect can continue into adulthood and puts those who experience bullying at higher risk for depression, substance abuse and suicidal ideation.

Sarzosa points to two tools to reduce victimization’s negative effects: Invest in helping children develop noncognitive skills at a younger age, and be mindful of classroom composition as students benefit from having peers that share common characteristics. For each additional classroom peer with similar characteristics, victimization drops by about 10%.

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