The Emotional Toll of Bullying in Schools
News reports of recent episodes of violent school shootings have described the shooters as isolated and lonely youngsters who were often teased, taunted and picked on by their peers. Parents, schools and mental health professionals have become increasingly aware that bullying is a pervasive problem and that its negative effects on the bully, the victim and the school atmosphere are considerable. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 50% of children are bullied and l0% are victims of bullying on a regular basis. A number of children and adolescents have reported that they suffered side effects of bullying - a drop in grades, an increase in anxiety, a loss of social life.
Two new studies that corroborate these reports that bullying can cause emotional as well as physical harm were published in the March/April issue of the Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology.¹ In one study, the researchers found that kids who were victimized were physically sick (headaches and stomachaches) more often and had were absent from school more often than their peers. Results of another study involving almost 2,000 sixth-graders of primarily low income families, showed that victims of bullying experienced more depression and physical illness, missed more school and experienced more depression and physical illness than their peers. In addition, their school performance tended to be poorer. The specific bullying acts reported in these studies were name-calling and physical aggression such as kicking and shoving. Bullying also comes in other forms - it can be a physically aggressive attack or a psychologically aggressive attack such as social isolation, exclusion or nonselection.
These recent studies add to the growing signs that schools and parents need to take more action to counteract bullying.
Recommendations for Parents:
- Assure your child that he or she is not to blame.
- Don't encourage a bullying victim to fight back. Instead, suggest that he or she try walking away to avoid the bully or that they seek help from an adult.
- Help your child practice how to react the next time he or she is bullied.
- If you suspect that your child may be a bully, make it clear that you will not tolerate this behavior and arrange for a non-violent consequence of bullying behavior. Confer with your child's teacher and increase supervision of his or her activities.
- Talk about teasing and bullying with your kids. Watch for bullying and teasing occurring in television programs, books and movies, and encourage discussions with leading questions such as "How do you think that person felt? What else could have been done?"
- Be a role model that conveys an attitude of respect for all persons.
- Work with the school to make sure each child is safe, that bullies are reprimanded in an appropriate manner, that monitoring at school is adequate and steps are taken to spread anti-bullying messages. Children should not be expected to handle bullies on their own.
Reprinted with the permission of the NYU Child Study Center. © NYU Child Study Center.
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