You’re probably no stranger to the fact that bullying is global issue, but the severity of the problem may come to surprise you. How bullying affects children at school is something that does not stop in the classroom. It can be initiated on the playground, in the classroom, after school, in a social setting or even digitally. Anyone can be bullied...
"As the only black kid in a New York City School, I was frequently bullied and beaten up." ~ Chris Rock
"Growing up, I was bullied and teased for being chubby. My nickname at school was Blubber, and I was once even locked in the art cupboard." ~ Kate Winslet
"I was taunted for my 'sticky-out ears' and lisp, as well as my long arms." ~ Michael Phelps
Bullying is defined as any negative or harmful action that someone purposefully subjects another person to repeatedly. This may sound straightforward, but there are actually many ways in which it can play out. Bullying can range from direct or indirect attacks and be expressed physically, verbally, psychologically, sexually, or through cyber platforms.
The ways in which your child can become a bully victim continues to grow. While we can’t eliminate this risk as parents, we can proactively make sure it doesn't develop into something more.
To make things easier, you need to ask yourself three simple questions:
- Do I acknowledge that bullying is a serious problem?
- Why is my child a bully victim and how is it affecting their behaviour?
- When is it a good time to intervene and what’s the best way to go about it?
If you don't know how to get this series of questions right, or you're not sure how to approach the issues systematically, it can lead to far more harm than good.
Why is bullying amongst children a serious problem?
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), including forms of bullying, are proven to play a large part in predetermining a child’s mental health. Research now shows that it not only leads to mental health concerns, but an increased risk of suicidal tendencies as well.
So let’s discuss how bullying affects children at school. You’re right in thinking that bullying isn’t something that just happens during school years. As adults, we also face our own kind of “bullying” in the workplace or at home with a spouse, family member or friend. While it may be a difficult situation to deal with (that usually results in a confrontation), the ways that bullying affects adults is often not nearly as severe as how bullying affects children at school.
Countless research shows that our childhood experiences largely shape and wire our brains to function the way they do as adults. And more recent studies have proved that traumatic experiences can lead to long-term mental health problems as well. A particular study that was published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology this year was able to clearly show just how severely our brain’s biological structure can change during childhood if we suffered from some form of abuse.
Unfortunately, the reason why we're becoming a lot more aware that bullying is a form of abuse is heartbreaking. Our children are resorting to suicide to escape their unheard problems and the problem just keeps getting worse. The American Association of Suicidology (AAS) released statistics showing that the suicide rate in children between the ages of 10-14 has grown by more than 50% over the last 30 years.
The link between bullying and suicide
There has been a surge in traumatic, breaking news stories on child suicide. Reporters are exposing the pain of the distraught families and confused peers to the public and this has triggered us as a society to demand more awareness on the issue. In the 1990s, experts started to evaluate the crisis and conduct enough research to get some kind of an answer. The results confirmed many people's predictions.
Yale School of Medicine found that individuals who are bully victims have a higher risk of committing suicide at some point in their lives. Another study published in the International Journal of Child Abuse and Neglect backed up this research. They confirmed that Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs*) are all triggers that can harm a child’s mental health and increase their risk of committing suicide.
Today, suicide is the second leading cause of death in children ages 15 to 29 on a global scale according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
*Common ACEs include: psychological abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional or physical neglect, witnessing violence, parent’s separation, or divorce.
The mental and physical health problems associated with bullying?
How bullying affects children at school really depends on the individual and the situation they're in. Before suicide comes close to being a potential risk, your child is likely to show various other signs of emotional and physical trauma.
As a parent, you need to look out for these signs and take action if you notice anything. Remember that your child is unlikely to step forward and explain how they feel to you if something is wrong. Studies show that while 28% of students between the ages of 2 and 18 are bullied in school, only 36% of that total number report the incidents.
How bullying affects children at school both mentally and physically:
- Low self-esteem,
- Poor social self-competence,
- Psychosomatic symptoms,
- Social withdrawal, and
- Physical health complaints.
Some other indications that your child is a bully victim include:
- Running away from home,
- Alcohol or drug use, and
- Poor academic performance.
It's understandable why so many of us feel despondent right now. Bullying is the reason our childhood and teenage suicides have increased so much and it's horrific. However, if we want the situation to improve, then it's our job to better understand the complexities of how bullying affects children at school. We need to make a connection with the feelings of fear, terror, sadness and humiliation that this form of trauma leaves our children with. Only through empathy and guidance can we give our unheard children a safe place to speak. Through this, you can put a proper plan into action in order to resolve the issue.
Why South Africa must take action
While bullying may be a global epidemic, some countries need more help than others. One country that needs a lot of help is South Africa. According to the stats, South Africa is one of the most bullied countries in the world.
South Africa was noted as one of the most bullied countries in the world as of January 2017 by the TIMSS & PIRLS. This global survey evaluates schooling systems from any country that wants to participate. It includes things like the effectiveness of their educational systems, the gaps in learning resources and the areas of weakness in curriculum. However, TIMSS & PIRLS also collect extensive data about the environmental factors that could affect your child's learning. One of the most important factors is how bullying affects children at school in South Africa.
At the moment, bullying is happening in every single South African school. One particular investigation found that 49,3% of school learners in Bloemfontein are bullied on a regular basis. Another study found that more than a third of South African high school learners either bully or help bully others. What’s worse? According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), an average of 23 South Africans commit suicide every day.
How do we protect our children from bullying?
We need to take action against bullying if we want to protect our children. Luckily, the viable solutions we can implement are not far from reach.
The situation we face with childhood bullying, and the fact that our own children are at risk of suffering emotional and physical trauma, is something we cannot brush off lightly. However, there is some light at the end of (what seems to be) this dark and miserable tunnel.
As mentioned earlier, we need to understand how bullying affects children at school and where our own child is suffering in particular. It's about knowing what the best ways to address this critical situation are, and when the right time to intervene would be.
The solution isn’t as short-term as ratting out a bully or sheltering your own child from any bully they meet. It takes a little more time and a lot more patience. True success comes in creating a safer learning environment for all children. By working with your child on improving their social skills and empathy, you can help boost their emotional intelligence. And by using a solid intervention strategy that provides practical, realistic, and relatable advice, you really can shape positive futures for your children and their peers.
The first step you need to take in this process is to create better awareness around bullying. This is why we have developed a free Bully Awareness course that uses the practical activities you need to help empower and give your child the confidence to deal with their own bullying problem. If you have not completed the free course, click the button below and enrol now.
Liu, R.T. J (2018), "Childhood Maltreatment and Impulsivity: A Meta-Analysis and Recommendations for Future Study", Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 30 May [online]. Available at: https://doi-org.libezproxy.open.ac.uk/10.1007/s10802-018-0445-3
American Association of Suicidology 2006, Youth Suicide Fact Sheet, accessed on 9 August 2018 [online]. Available at: https://www.sfwar.org/pdf/Suicide/SUI_AAS_2010(youth).pdf
World Health Organization 2014, First WHO report on suicide prevention, accessed on 9 August 2018 [online]. Available at: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2014/suicide-prevention-report/en/
National Center for Eduction Statistics 2015, How many students are bullied at school? U.S. Department of Education, accessed on 10 August 2018 [online]. Available at: https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=719
Centre for Disease Control and Prevention 2014, Head Back to School Safer and Healthier this Year, accessed on 9 August 2018 [online]. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpao/division-information/media-tools/dpk/back-to-school/
TIMSS & PIRLS 2015, Student Bullying, accessed on 9 August 2018 [online]. Available at: http://timss2015.org/timss-2015/mathematics/school-safety/student-bullying/
de Wet, K 2004, "The voices of victims and witnesses of school bullying", Department of Comparative Education and Education Management, pp 711.
"Suicide Takes its Toll", The Citizen (2014) 12 September.