April 10, 2023

Bullying and Its Effect on Our Youth

“Bullying is the result of an unequal power dynamic – the strong attacking the weak”

– Maria Konnikova

It is well-established that the effects of bullying and cyber-bullying are serious and cannot be ignored. The mental health effects of bullying range from social withdrawal to suicides and are exacerbated by the boundary-less nature of the Internet.

Bullying can have different forms

Real life bullying and cyber-bullying take on many forms: physical bullying includes actions such as kicking, hitting, punching, slapping, shoving, and other physical attacks that are easy to spot and tackle.

  • Verbal bullying may occur in both real life and the social media which includes name-calling and using insults to belittle, demean, and hurt another person.
  • Relational bullying is common among tween and teenage groups in real and cyber-life, it involves ostracizing others from a group, spreading rumors, manipulating situations, and breaking confidences to feel popular and/or powerful.
  • Sexual bullying can include sexual name-calling, crude comments, vulgar gestures, uninvited touching, sexual propositioning or sexting, and sharing pornographic materials to an unwilling recipient.
  • Prejudicial bullying shows up in the form of harassment and targeting based on race, religion, or sexual orientation.
  • Cyber-bullying is bullying with the use of digital technologies. It can take place on social media, messaging platforms, gaming platforms and mobile phones. It is a repeated behavior, aimed at scaring, angering, or shaming those who are targeted.

Mental health effects of bullying

The psychological damages to children caused by bullying and cyber-bullying have been proven beyond doubt. If no intervention takes place, eventually kids can develop what is known as “learned helplessness.” Learned helplessness means that the victims of bullying believe that they cannot do anything to change the situation.

Children and youngsters being bullied often show one or more of the following behaviors:

  • Low self-esteem
    One of the first effects of bullying on a child’s self-esteem is self-doubt, or loss of confidence. The child may feel like they are not good enough and start seeing themselves as less appealing to others. They may start to feel ashamed to show up in public or socially interact with others. When they’re belittled over something they can’t possibly change, such as their height, skin color, or other physical attribute, it becomes even more damaging to their self-esteem. This could result in missing, skipping, or dropping out of school. Changes in sleep and eating patterns may also occur.
  • Loss of focus on studies
    Kids who are bullied often suffer academically too. Bullied kids struggle to focus on their schoolwork. In fact, slipping grades is one of the first signs that a child is being bullied. Kids also may be pre-occupied by bullying and due to added stress they forget about assignments or have difficulty paying attention in class. This leads to decreased academic achievement— lower GPA and test scores.
  • Depression & anxiety
    Studies have found a link between bullying and a higher risk of mental health issues during childhood, including depression & anxiety. This can have a lasting impact on the young person. Seeing your child experience bullying and depression can be heart-breaking, and many parents do not know how to help.
    Watch out for these early behavioral signs for a timely intervention:
    1. loss of interest in activities that used to be enjoyed
    2. Health complaints such as stomach pain, headaches, digestive problems, losing weight, gaining weight, and eating disorders etc.
    3. Depression and anxiety with increased feelings of sadness and loneliness that may manifest as melancholia or isolation.
  • Self-harm or suicidal thoughts
    For children with mental health concerns such as depression or anxiety, prolonged bullying can cause stress and a deep feeling of hopelessness which increase the risk of suicide. Victims who hurt themselves on purpose may be trying to relieve their emotional pain. Self-harm is a warning sign and it’s important to take it seriously.

Some of the behavioral changes or effects in children due to bullying

  • Losing interest in going to school – Going to school can get scary due to the fear of encountering people bullying them. This can lead to the child skipping school or displaying behaviors that result in suspension.
  • Withdrawing from friends & family – Because kids tie their self-worth to acceptance by their friends and families, victims tend to isolate themselves due to low self-esteem as a result of bullying.
  • Alcohol or drug addiction – Using drugs and alcohol is more common in victims of cyber-bullying and harassment. This behavior is especially true for kids when they struggle with coping mechanisms and choose to self-medicate.
  • Indulging in criminal activities – If the child doesn’t feel safe, they may choose to carry a weapon. Studies show that kids who are bullied are 8 times more likely to carry a weapon to school.

How to help your child as a parent or a guardian?

Kids may not always recognize teasing as bullying. Some kids also may be too embarrassed or ashamed to talk to their parents that they’re being cyber-bullied. They also might be afraid that your involvement will make things worse. It also is not uncommon for parents to feel a sense of failure when their child is bullied. But, if you find out your kid has been bullied, it probably means the issue is major enough for you to get involved.

The good news is with proper support and intervention, most kids targeted by bullies will overcome bullying and things will get back to normal. Try to collect more facts by talking the situation through with your kid and work out a plan of action together. It’s important to talk about online and digital behavior before your child starts interacting with others online and with devices.

You can help your child by establishing open communication. It is important to reinforce to your child that no one deserves to be bullied and it’s not their fault for being bullied.

Educate your child about cyber-bullying effects. Teach them to take screen shots of the bullying text messages on social media and submitting them as proof to the authorities at school, to the relevant social media networking site or to the concerned law-enforcement agencies. Ensure that your child knows the right way to use the internet and social media.

Know your child’s friends and social circle and ensure that they interact with people they know and like. Help your child find closure for the situation. As counterintuitive as it sounds, forgiving the bully goes a long way in freeing your child from the pain of the experience.

Encourage the young ones to do what they love. Special activities, interests, and hobbies can boost confidence, help them make friends, and protect them from bullying behavior.

Finally, encourage the child to talk to a teacher or a counselor if the bullying is in school or related to school. Having a counselor help your child with the recovery process may speed things along. It can help the child feel supported and empowered by having an advocate for them at the school.