An important post from guest writer Anne Roberts.
Bullying is bad. It’s horrendous to experience, it’s soul-destroying, and it smashes children’s personalities to pieces just as they’re hitting a crucial stage of their development. Some, however, are still of the opinion that bullying ‘builds character’. Well, it’s time to put that idea down. Science states pretty unequivocally that bullying does not ‘build character’. In fact, it does quite the opposite. Those who are bullied as children frequently suffer deep psychological scars, which impede their social development and leave them with issues likely to last for the rest of their lives.
More than one study has pointed to the fact that victims of childhood bullying frequently suffer from chronic and sometimes expensive health issues throughout their lives. Now, it’s worth noting at this point that correlation does not always indicate causation in this case. Sad though it is to say, children are very, very good at perceiving vulnerability, and attacking because of it. Many children with long-term health issues are bullied because of those issues. In such cases, the health problems ‘cause’ the bullying, rather than vice versa. Nonetheless, the sheer volume of evidence to suggest that serious health problems can result from bullying is overwhelming. In severe cases, physical bullying can cause permanent scars or disability. More common, however, are lasting mental health problems stemming from being bullied in childhood. Bullying destroys the victim’s self-esteem, sense of personal worth, and social confidence. Coming at a time when all of these things are ‘budding’, as it were, this damage is particularly devastating. It effectively stunts the child’s mental health growth, and when growth does occur, it is warped. As a consequence, a huge number of bullied children grow up to suffer from depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, substance abuse disorders, and much, much more.
Poor mental health, in many cases, leads to poor social health. This is particularly true when the mental health issues in question stem from being bullied – which naturally makes the victim wary of other humans. Victims of childhood bullying who suffer from consequent mental health problems often find it very hard to connect with others. Due to spending much of their childhoods experiencing unusually negative interactions, a crucial stage of social development was corrupted, leading to problems making friends and otherwise communicating with others in later life. This naturally brings on a whole host of problems, including difficulties finding jobs, working as part of a team, having fulfilling relationships, and so on. Many who have been bullied in the past end up poor, mentally ill, and profoundly lonely – which is in itself terrible for mental health. It’s a vicious, self-perpetuating phenomenon which no parent would wish their child to fall into as they grow older.
What Can Be Done?
The only real way to stop this problem once and for all is to eradicate bullying. However, realistically, this is simply not going to happen. The best we can do towards this aim is to teach our children to be empathetic, compassionate, and friendly towards others – as well as coming down hard on them should we suspect them of bullying. From the other perspective, parents and carers can help to limit the issue by keeping an eye out for bullying symptoms in their children, and encouraging them to report any bullying which they experience. In such cases, you may not be able to stop the bullying (although it’s worth trying by talking to the teachers, parents, or adults otherwise responsible for the bullies), but you can help your child to get over it. This is by no means easy. However, if you can give your child the mental resilience they need in order to rise above the bullying and continue on an upwards trajectory (psychologically speaking), the damage done to their developing psyches may well be lessened. Build self-esteem, build confidence, give them the opportunity to shine and to flourish, take them to counselling if need be. Bullying need not sentence one to a life of illness and isolation – it all depends on how one handles it.
Symptoms Of Bullying
There are no ‘definitive’ symptoms of bullying, but a bullied child may display some (or all, or none) of these signs: