Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Snowball Effects of Bullying

Have you been told that you’re too short?  Too tall?  Too smart? Not smart enough? Too skinny?  Too big?  You’re not alone.  Everyone has been bullied at some point in his/her life.  Unfortunately. 
Bullying is confusing.  One person may tell you that he/she doesn’t like you because you’re “ugly” while another person may say that you’re conceited because you’re too pretty.  Sometimes, you just can’t win.

Most bullying takes place in elementary and middle school – at a time when a child’s self-esteem is typically at its lowest.  Adolescence is difficult and some children try to make themselves feel better by “picking on” kids who seem different.  Usually, the target of bullies is kids who already have self-doubts or have trouble making friends.  This is not a surprise.  But, what may surprise you is bullying can have last effects.

A new study appearing in the March edition of Pediatrics states that children who have been bullied both in the past and the present scored significantly lower on various “health measures,” followed by those who reported being bullied currently, then those bullied in the past only and those reporting no history of being bullied.

As reported by USA Today, the study compared the following “health measures”:
  • 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 only, 12% of those bullied in the past only and 7% of those never bullied.
  • 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.
Intervening early to stop bullying is important because the health effects – including anxiety, depression and impaired self-worth – can persist even after bullying stops.

It is critical for adults to recognize the signs that a child is being bullied.  As I wrote about in my November 12, 2013, blog, Warning Signs of Bullying, some signs that may point to a bullying problem are: 

  • Unexplainable injuries
  • Lost or destroyed clothing, books, electronics, or jewelry
  • Frequent headaches or stomach aches, feeling sick or faking illness
  • Changes in eating habits, like suddenly skipping meals or binge eating. Kids may come home from school hungry because they did not eat lunch.
  • Difficulty sleeping or frequent nightmares
  • Declining grades, loss of interest in schoolwork, or 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, harming themselves, or talking about suicide.  If your child is feeling hopeless, helpless or knows someone who is, please call the LIFELINE at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

It is our jobs as adults to help children who can’t defend themselves or need assistance.
For more information about how Fitness for Health can help improve children’s self-esteem through physical fitness, visit www.FitnessForHealth.org.

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