Witnessing violence in school as a bystander can be as damaging to mental health as being the one directly bullied, according to a new study published Monday.
Experts have long suspected that teens witnessing forms of school violence were at risk of developing later academic and psycho-social impairment but, until recently, there has been no concrete evidence to prove this.
The study by the Université de Montréal by international researchers from Belgium and France found that both bystanders and those experiencing bullying were prone to later drug use and delinquency, social anxiety, depressive symptoms and decreases in school engagement.
In their findings published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, researchers noted that almost all students witnessed school violence, which was associated with a greater risk of subsequent adjustment problems two years later, ScienceDaily reported.
“Bystander effects were very similar to being victimized by violence directly,” said the study’s co-author Linda Pagani.
To arrive at their findings, the team of researchers followed nearly 4,000 Quebec high-school students who had witnessed some type of school violence in Grade 8.
They then analyzed the comparable antisocial behavior, emotional distress and academic adjustment among those students when they had reached Grade 10.
The study showed that students witnessing violence were impacted in the same way as if they had experienced it directly.
The effects were not limited to severe violence, but included a spectrum of actions considered to be bullying.
The American Society for the Positive Care of Children defined bullying as any type of unwanted, aggressive behavior entailing real or perceived power imbalance that is repeated over time.
The organization noted that 30 percent of students admitted to bullying, with one in three students being bullied at school and at least 70 percent admitting to witnessing bullying.
“It is clear that approaches to prevention and intervention should include witnesses as well victims and perpetrators and target all forms of school violence,” said Michel Janosz, the study’s lead author.
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