“Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you.” Parents have recited this adage for years when talking to their children about being picked on. Another oldie but goodie is, “Kids will be kids.” Although bullying has been an expected part of childhood, it is now in the media spotlight and society is becoming intolerant to such behavior. Scientists and doctors are now finding that bullying can cause long-term psychological and physiological effects for victims of bullying.
What is bullying?
Bullying is defined as behavior that is aggressive, abuses power, causes an imbalance of power, and occurs repeatedly. It is most commonly seen among children, but some adults can display this behavior, as well. Bullying can involve verbal attacks and physical contact. A bully will dominate a victim and repeatedly attack them, despite the victim’s plea to stop. If a child is bullied, they need to seek help. Unfortunately, in school settings, not every bullying moment is caught. Usually, the bully is punished, but not removed, from the school environment. Then, the bullying can continue if the bully is not fearful of consequences. At home, if a child is being bullied, they can ask for help from family members. What if it is the family member that is being bullied? Then, the child is forced to accept and cope with the attacks. If a victim does not get help, or even if they do, the long-term emotional and physical effects can be catastrophic. In today’s society, social media is a contributor to the new form of bullying: Cyberbullying. Anonymous attacks can happen without being face-to-face and are just as harmful, if not worse, than traditional bullying. Many times, children are less likely to report cyberbullying to adults and that can be harmful.
Effects of Bullying on Mentality
According to numerous studies, bullying can affect a person’s mentality and physical health long into adulthood. A child or teen must learn to develop positive relationships with their peers. If they are bullied, the ability to bond with others and form trust with another person can be very difficult because they have been victimized and betrayed by someone. Sometimes, the victims can become a bully to protect themselves from being emotionally hurt or betrayed. As an adult, this protective emotional state can make professional and romantic relationships a challenge to maintain.
Victims of bullying often experience headaches, nausea, sleep disorders, and bedwetting, in younger children. Because of the stress, their bodies are under, they are sometimes unable to fend off common illnesses because their immune system is suppressed. Bullying victims can also suffer from educational decline, due to increased absences or a lack of motivation to succeed. Bullying can be all consuming and children are not built to deal with continuously feeling unsafe.
Another effect of bullying is a risk of developing anxiety and depression. Especially in adolescent years, children can internalize the helplessness they feel when they have been bullied. Internalizing leads to coping, and not all coping methods are healthy. This is because adolescents are not fully mature and have not developed healthy coping mechanisms. Keeping stress and not seeking help can lead to acute anxiety and depression because the victims feel hopeless. Without treatment, this can develop even further into drug abuse and eating disorders.
The worst side effect of internalization is suicide. More and more children and teens are attempting or committing suicide because of continuous bullying. In the media, there is an increase in stories about children dying because they were viciously bullied and felt like there was no hope left. It is a sad situation that no child or parent should experience. However, the bullying will continue.
How can I help?
The best way to advocate for children is to be aware. Teachers, parents, siblings, and friends must be aware of what bullying is and how it manifests in different situations. It may be in the form of a push or punch, or it could be constant name-calling. Bullying can be insults based on appearance and lifestyle, such as race, weight, gender, and sexual orientation. It can also be posts and pictures on social media that are meant to embarrass, humiliate, or destroy reputations. If people are aware of what bullying looks like, they can be involved in preventing or reducing such behavior from happening.
If a child reports bullying to an adult, they need to listen. If the adult cannot directly help, they need to find someone who can. The worst thing an adult can do is dismiss a child’s claim of being bullied. Even if it turns out that all is well, it is worth investigating. As adults, it is our duty to advocate and help those who are being or have been, victimized.
We are here to help. If you or your child is a victim of bullying, do not internalize your feelings. We have experienced and compassionate counselors that can help you or your child cope with negative experiences in a healthy way. Your mental health is our priority. Contact us and make an appointment today.