Physical abuse, sexual abuse, violence in the home and exposure to substance abuse are all adverse events that can occur in the life of a child and may lead to negative health outcomes into adulthood. Research demonstrates how adults’ bad behavior can have a significant impact on the growing and developing mind and body of a child. We are also learning more about how actions of our children’s peers can also have a significant impact on their health and well-being.
Many of us have an image of bullying that includes a young, frail child who is threatened or hurt by the big playground bully. Although this stereotypical bullying still occurs across schoolyards today, the modes of bullying have evolved with modern technology. The CDC defines electronic aggression (also known as “cyberbullying”) as “any type of harassment or bullying that occurs through email, a chat room, instant messaging, a website, social media or text messaging.” Their research shows that between 9 and 35 percent of students report that they have been victims of cyberbullying. Easy access to the Internet, anonymity and widespread distribution are all reasons why cyberbullying is on the rise.
Bullying is a form of violence that can cause significant emotional, physical and behavioral problems for both the bully and the victim. As with any adverse childhood experience, being a bully or being a victim of bullying can lead to immediate health concerns including depression, anxiety, school avoidance and somatic complaints – and it can also lead to long lasting poor health outcomes. Children who are bullied or who are bullies themselves are more likely to abuse drugs and/or alcohol, have lower self-esteem, suffer from mental health issues and have physical health diagnoses. Bullying behaviors can be closely related to suicide behaviors. Studies show that children who play or have played both roles (bully and victim) suffer the most serious physical and mental health consequences.
Although research is still developing around bullying prevention, the CDC offers some suggestions. Schools should work to improve supervision of students and should implement and actively enforce rules and policies against bullying of any form. They should promote communication and cooperation among parents, school staff and other professionals. Parents should check in with their child frequently, develop rules for safe electronic media use, monitor their child’s media use and communicate with the school when necessary.
This April for Child Abuse Prevention Month, let’s focus our efforts on protecting children from all forms of abuse, neglect and violence – including exposure to bullying behaviors.
Interested in learning more? The CDC’s tip sheet offers further examples of electronic aggression and tips for parents and caregivers. Their “understanding bullying” fact sheet explains why bullying is a public health problem and identifies youths who may be at risk for engaging in or experiencing bullying, as well as tips for preventing bullying. Finally, stopbullying.gov has an extensive list of state policies and laws surrounding bullying, in addition to ways that parents, educators, community members, teens and kids can get involved and take action against bullying.