Is My Child Being Bullied? Look for These Signs

Recent study offers evidence bullying can affect mental and physical health but early intervention can help.

A bullied child

The results of study by Boston Children’s Hospital published in the March issue of Pediatrics found that:
Over time chronic bullying was associated with worse mental and physical health, specifically:

Psycho-social health (such as anger, fear and anxiety), 45% of 10th-graders bullied in both
the past and present scored low compared with 31% of those bullied in the present .

Depression, 30% of 10th-graders bullied in the past and present exhibited the worst symptoms, compared with 19% of those bullied in the present only, 13% of those bullied in the past only and 8% never bullied.

Self-worth, 29% of 10th-graders bullied in the past and present had the lowest scores, compared with 20% of those bullied only in the present; 12% of those bullied only in the past and 8% who were not bullied.

Physical health (such as a student’s comfort with playing sports and being physically active), 30% of seventh-graders bullied in both the past and present scored low compared with 24% of those bullied in the present only, 15% of those bulled in the past only and 6% of those never bullied.

Sadly I have seen the effects of bullying too often. I see it on the faces and in the voices of demoralized young children and teens whose parents have had to home school due of the wounds and scars the trauma of bullying has left on their young psyches. I hear them in the stories of adults suffering from chronic depression, anxiety and crushingly low self-esteem who can trace back their fears and sorrows to long-ago acts of childhood bullying.

The cruelty reported in such cases leaves me wondering about our species. Wondering what it is that our children can be so mean-spirited and draw such unabashed, unapologetic enjoyment from their acts. Wondering why others studies show that bullies are often among the most popular students in their schools.

Surveys from the study collected from 4,300 public school students in Houston, Los Angeles and Birmingham, Ala. showed that 22% of students reported being bullied in the fifth grade. Fortunately, as other studies have found, the likelihood of being bullied declined as students got older, with only 5% reporting being victimized in the seventh grade and 3% reporting it by the 10th grade.

Why does this occur so young? And why does it decrease so significantly with age? The study did not address these questions, but again I have to wonder. Blessedly there was not much visible cruelty child upon child in my young life, or that of my brother. The key word there, I think, is visible. If so many adults my age and older are still suffering the long term effects of bullying, bullying must have been present then as well, but recognized or addressed. We were simply blessed to have missed out on such experiences.

Like all children my brother and I experienced the typical disappointments, slights, playground fights, injustices and heartbreaks that accompany the extended process of “growing up.” But bully is something quite different from the routine hard knocks we all experience while learning to negotiate the ups and downs of life. Bulling is repetitive, unprovoked, cruel aggressive behavior with the clear intention of hurting someone else physically and/or mentally. It can be harassment – abusive violation of civil rights targeting someone’s gender, religion, race, sexual orientation or national origin. But the targets of bullying it seems can be anything that makes a young person different from others. All of the following reasons are examples cited in my practice – a disability of some kind, dressing unusually, a crooked tooth, acne, being shy, too skinny, too fat, too rich, too poor, too ugly or too pretty. Regardless of the cause, the pain and consequences can be as deep.

The Boston study among others also have shown that early intervention to protect our children from bullying can prevent much of both the short and long term negative effects of bullying. So we as parents and adults involved in our children’s life need to be aware bullying behavior is all too common so we must work to create an environment when which bullying is not acceptable behavior, never to praise or looked up to. We must take active steps to stop it whenever we see it and looks for the signs of that a child has been bullied so we provide the help they need to heal their wounds they’ve suffered.

                                                     Look for These Signs.

The federal government’s stopbullying.gov website says these signs may point to a bullying problem:

•Unexplained injuries

•Lost or destroyed clothing, books, electronics or jewelry

•Frequent headaches or stomachaches, feeling sick or faking illness

•Changes in eating habits, such as suddenly skipping meals or binge eating.

•Difficulty sleeping or frequent nightmares.

•Declining grades, loss of interest in schoolwork, not wanting to go to school.

•Sudden loss of friends or avoidance of social situations.

•Feelings of helplessness or decreased self-esteem.

•Self-destructive behaviors such as running away from home or talking about suicide.

If you see any of these signs in your child, do not discount them. Talk to your child and reach out for help for them through a health and mental care provider..

For more on bullying, see the Boston University study.

© Sarah Anne Edwards. 2014