How Bullying Starts
Bullying behavior is prevalent throughout the world and it cuts across socio-economic, racial/ethnic, and cultural lines. Researchers estimate that 20 to 30 percent of school-age children are involved in bullying incidents, as either perpetrators or victims. Bullying can begin as early as preschool and intensify during transitional stages, such as starting school in 1st grade or going into middle school.
Victims of bullying are often shy and tend to be physically weaker than their peers. They may also have low self-esteem and poor social skills, which makes it hard for them to stand up for themselves. Bullies consider these children safe targets because they usually don’t retaliate.
Effects of Bullying
If your child is the victim of bullying, he may suffer physically and emotionally, and his schoolwork will likely show it. Grades drop because, instead of listening to the teacher, kids are wondering what they did wrong and whether anyone will sit with them at lunch. If bullying persists, they may be afraid to go to school. Problems with low self-esteem and depression can last into adulthood and interfere with personal and professional lives.
Tying Bullying to Traumatic Stress
If the child also lacks family support, the effects can be more devastating. As the child attempts to make sense of the traumatic event, new behavioral problems can emanate from re-experienced traumatic events. In addition, some children affected by traumatic events may disassociate themselves from the traumatic situations and absorb themselves in behaviors that generate negative attention. These new behavioral adaptations may become so potent that opportunities for typical development and growth are ignored as the child attempts to ensure her own safety.
For instance, a child who has been repeatedly bullied on the playground may exhibit oppositional behaviors in class or may turn in incomplete work just to ensure that she has to stay inside while others are on recess. The child doesn’t pay attention in class, and her thoughts revolve around staying away from the playground. The fear of reprimand for the behavior is less than the fear of being bullied at recess.
The number of youths who experience bullying is alarming. In a recent survey of 1,965 students in seventh through twelfth grades, 48 percent reported being harassed in some way (Anderson, 2011). Since many cases of bullying include violent actions intended to create fear (name-calling; physical attacks; acts of humiliation, denigration, and mistreatment), bullying can cause traumatic stress responses. With these acts of bullying being continuous and going unnoticed, many children who are bulled can in fact develop symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (van der Kolk, Weisaeth, & McFarlane, 2007).