Revenge of the Nerds: Childhood Bullies Often Jobless Adults
Aug. 3, 2000 -- The next time your kid gets harassed by a bully, tell him to
try this taunt: Ha-ha, you'll be un-em-ploy-oyed. Although that's not the
predetermined outcome, a new Finnish study says that unless parents step in to
change their child's bullying ways, that child may have a rough road ahead.
According to a report in the July issue of Developmental Psychology,
aggressive behavior among 8-year-olds is linked with difficulties later in
life. "Our study showed that childhood aggression can start a whole cycle
of problems, such as poor school performance, alcohol abuse, and adult
unemployment," says lead author Katja Kokko, MA, a psychologist and
doctoral candidate at the University of Jyvaskyla in Finland.
"But there's plenty of hope for aggressive kids, because we also showed
that good parenting can interfere with this cycle," she tells WebMD.
To understand the long-term effects of childhood aggression, Kokko and
colleagues followed almost 400 people from 1968. With teacher reports,
interviews, and questionnaires, researchers gathered information on their
social behavior, school performance, alcohol use, and work history from ages 8
to 36. The people in the study also described memories of their childhood
environment when they were adults.
The data showed that hurting, teasing, or otherwise aggressive behavior
toward others at age 8 was strongly related to poor school performance at age
14, problem drinking at age 27, and long-term unemployment at age 36. But among
the formerly aggressive people, those with high levels of parental support were
significantly more likely to be employed.
So if your child is aggressive with others, what can you do? "Kids who
lack impulse control don't need any prompting, so, first and foremost,
eliminate physical punishment and restrict their exposure to media
violence," says clinical psychologist Laura Mee, PhD, an assistant
professor of psychiatry at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.
Mee also has these other suggestions:
Teach them to stop and think by counting to five or taking a deep
breath before acting.
Build their sense of empathy by discussing how physical aggression
Praise them for good behavior by making three positive comments for
But some children may need more than parental support. "When a teacher
or coach says you've got a problem, you probably do," Mee tells WebMD.
"So talk with your school principal or pediatrician about a mental health
referral, because the situation won't get better on its own. Besides, it's much
easier to treat an 8-year-old than a 16-year-old."
Behavioral therapy is often used to control childhood aggression, she says.
"By using a targeted plan of action, we gradually replace aggressive
behavior with more appropriate behavior. That often means focusing their energy
on school, sports, hobbies, or volunteering."
Even if the problem is beyond the parents' abilities to fix, that doesn't
mean the parents cannot still be involved in the process. In developing an
action plan, psychologists often rely on parental reports. "It's helpful to
know the context in which aggressive behavior occurs," Mee says. She
recommends that parents keep a diary of the following before the first office
- Frequency of physical aggression against others
- Intensity of each event, rated from one to five
- Events that led up to the attack
- Events that followed the attack
- Punishments given