Junkfood Science: School bullying hurts

March 06, 2007

School bullying hurts

Pediatricians worldwide are noting that bullying is a problem for school children, and the health consequences are significant.

Pediatric researchers in India recently reported on the prevalence and associated health problems of bullying in the January issue of Indian Pediatrics. They discovered that nearly one-third of the children there report being bullied in school. Other countries have reported bullying among as many as 40% as in a Korean study.

The commonest forms of bullying were teasing and name calling, with 16% being physically hurt and smaller numbers being threatened or isolated. Of interest for both parents and healthcare professionals are the physical and emotional symptoms that they found among bullied children: headaches, frequently getting sick, nightmares, tummy aches, failed grades and school absenteeism, body aches, nail biting, fear of going to school, sleep problems and vomiting. In fact, children who were bullied were nearly 13 times more afraid of going to school than children who were not bullied. Bullying is exceedingly stressful for children. The researchers said:

Victims, especially if bullying is frequent and severe, frequently abstain themselves from the school, have lower self-esteem, lack confidence, are low achievers affecting their school performance and report several psychosomatic illnesses. In addition, they are more likely to have anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation. They are lonely and have fewer friends and consider themselves as less competent. It can also impact their abilities to form relationships in adult life.

But what was perhaps saddest and most constructive to learn from their study was that most victims never told their parents or an adult that they are being bullied, leaving them without a source of support. The researchers learned that less than a quarter of the parents whose children were being bullied were even aware of it. They suggest that parents and healthcare professionals should suspect and ask about bullying whenever children and teens have unexplained psychosomatic and behavioral symptoms that could indicate bullying.

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