Guest Blog: Bullied
Excerpt from Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear. (Harper Collins 2012)
“The arena in which bullying is raising the most concern is on the Internet, because people have brought their aggressive tendencies online. Cyberbullying was not a factor in historical measurements of bullying behaviors, so even though other types of physical and verbal bullying have decreased, there has been a large shift to online bullying.
Parents who are intimidated by texting and social networking sites view cyberbullying as a terrifying new form of bullying, but the truth is that cyberbullying is just a continuation of existing adolescent behavior, played out in a new arena.
Approximately 20-25% of kids have been bullied online, according to cyberbullying expert Justin Patchin, and this is a conservative estimate. Bullies and victims can trade places at the click of a mouse, and things move so fast online that it is difficult to process information rationally before reacting. For the unfortunate kids who find themselves on the receiving end of massive cyberbullying attacks, the relentless barrage of cruelty can create a sensation of sinking into a black hole of pain.
How exactly does the pain of severe bullying affect the most vulnerable kids? According to statistics reported by the National Education Association, 160,000 children stay home from school every day because of bullying. Studies investigating the neuroscience of bullying have found that bully victims experience anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress, difficulty concentrating, headaches and stomach pain as a result of being bullied.
Studies of early social deprivation show that human beings are hard-wired to belong, and nowhere is this more evident than in kids jockeying for social position. And the old adage – sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me? Not true. Neuroimaging studies have shown that parts of the cortical pain network are also activated when a person is socially excluded. This goes not just for adults but for children as well. The brain of children as young as thirteen has been shown to react to social pain as if the child were being physically injured. Taunting and bullying hurts, and we have the brain scans to prove it. Even worse, repeatedly being victimized by peers – which is the very nature of bullying, the repetitiveness of it – actually alters brain functioning, which increases the victim’s sensitivity to future attacks, even causing the person to perceive an ambiguous situation as threatening. Years after the school bullying has ceased, victims are left picking up the wreckage.
The outlook for the most-affected victims is serious, but I believe there is hope that we can continue to reduce the number of victims.
Bullying is a learned behavior. Children are not born cruel. Babies in diapers do not assess each other as too fat, too poor, too dark-skinned, too nerdy, too conceited. Born innocent, they start learning stereotypes as soon as they understand language, and we see bullying behaviors in children as young as toddlers. Since preschoolers who display marked aggressiveness have a higher likelihood of being bullies in older grades, the earlier intervention begins, the better the results. It is much easier to inculcate kindness and acceptance into a five-year-old who acts like a bully than into a fifteen-year-old who acts like a bully.”
(Footnotes that appear in the original text do not appear here.)
Carrie Goldman is the author of the critically-acclaimed book Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear (Harper Collins, 2012). She also writes an internationally-followed blog called Portrait of an Adoption for ChicagoNow, the online community hosted by the Chicago Tribune.