Attention to bullying is definitely rising nationwide, and it is unfortunately a prevalent childhood occurrence. Bullying implicates serious outcomes for children who initiated the bullying, the bystanders and also those who are victimised by the bullies. Bullying not only causes victims to experience somatic disturbances but also has adverse effects on psychological health and brain development. Furthermore, as a consequence of bullying, the mental health of bullies and the bystanders are compromised.
Victims of bullying experience a range of somatic disturbances.
According to a large scale study conducted, it was found that bullied children aged 7 to 10 were reported to not having a good sleep and had bed-wetting issues. Bullies suffer more often from health complaints such as sleeping problems, headache and stomachache. (Williams et al., 1996 Salmon et al., 1998 Forero et al., 1999). A recent meta-analysis concluded that bullied victims were at least twice as likely to have psychosomatic disturbances than non-bullied children and adolescents (Gini & Pozzoli, 2013). This indicates that as compared to children who were not involved in bullying, the physical health of bullied children tends to be bad.
When educators are alert for these symptoms, it may expedite the identification of the bully-victims and the subsequent eradication of abusive experiences.
Bullying has a negative effect on the psychological health of the victims. The Great Mountain Study revealed that victims of bullying were susceptible to have long-term mental problems such as anxiety disorders, panic disorders and depression. (Sarah, 2014). According to Wolke and Lereya (2015), victims also face issues with concentration, learning difficulties, anxiety and depression.
Due to this, bullies tend to have great difficulty making friends, have poorer relationships, and experience loneliness (Nansel et al., 2001). According to The New Paper (2005), a sixteen-year-old schoolgirl from Singapore had committed suicide after having endured being bullied by her schoolmates almost every day for several years. Physical wounds heal quickly, but often the psychological damage connected to the feeling of worthlessness, and the feeling of being hated attaches itself to the victim after an instance of bullying can last for a very long time and damage the child’s self-esteem and also cost them their life. Over time, the ongoing stress and trauma of being bullied may lead to more severe problems.
Bullying also has harmful effects on the victim’s brain development. According to a study conducted by Erin (n.d.)., it was revealed that there may be physical structural differences in the brains of adolescents who are regularly victimised and this could possibly increase their chance of suffering from a mental illness. Bullying has been linked to a decrease in the volume parts of the brain called caudate and putamen. These two components play a crucial part in how the brain uses information from past experiences to influence future actions and decisions, regulates movements and affect learning respectively. According to another study conducted by Martin (n.d.)., victims who reported having been mistreated by their peers had observable abnormalities such as shrinkage in parts of the brain called corpus callosum which is vital for visual processing and memory. This could lead to subtle neurocognitive difficulties and permanent scars on the brain. Erin (n.d.). indicated that adolescence is not only a time of new experiences but also a period of extensive brain development. Therefore, efforts should be made to limit bullying before it becomes a severe problem that might lead to changes in a young person’s brain and the development of mental issues.
Bullies experience detrimental effects on their mental health as a result of bullying. They have a greater risk of abusing drugs as adults and are more probable to have criminal convictions. Bullies also tend to feel disconnected from their school and are more likely to gravitate towards aggressive, anti-social groups which reinforce their behaviour. According to a longitudinal study conducted in 2011, students who displayed bullying behaviour in Year 10 were found to be associated with an increased likelihood of theft and violent behaviour. These students have a greater chance of getting adverse mental health problems that might continue into adult life. When intervened early and given the right support, bullying need not have to affect the mental health of the bully.
Bullying can have significant harmful effects on the mental health of bystanders who do not interfere or report bullying. Bystanders have reported feelings of anxiety and insecurity (Rigby and Slee, 1993) which was built from fears of retaliation (Musher-Eizenman et al., 2004). This often hinders bystanders from getting help from a trusted adult. According to the study conducted by Rivers and Noret (2013) which investigated the effects of bullying on the bystanders’ mental health, it was revealed that more symptoms of interpersonal sensitivity (feeling of hurt or inferiority), helplessness and potential suicide ideation were reported as compared to students who were not engaged in bullying. These effects on the bystanders can be prevented if a step in and intervene when necessary as they have the great potential to influence their peers.
As educators, we must be observant and proactive in preventing bullying in our classrooms and help each child feel safe and secure in the learning environment. It is crucial to provide opportunities for children to understand positive modelling behaviours through role-plays and acting out bullying scenarios is a very effective tool. The educator should also find time to incorporate lessons that promote and teach the value of friendships. Children will understand the importance of friendship and this may hopefully create an environment that is not conducive to bullying and buffer against some of the effects of bullying.
Schools can also adopt and implement the Step to Respect curriculum to combat bullying. This program focuses on decreasing school bullying problems by increasing staff awareness and responsiveness, fostering socially and responsible beliefs, and teaching socio-emotional skills to counter bullying and promote healthy relationships. According to a study conducted by Frey and colleagues (2005) on the efficacy of Step to Respect in six schools, students in the intervention group were revealed to have less acceptance of bullying behaviour than students in the control group and there was a decline in observed argumentative behaviour and an increase in observed agreeable behaviour. Another study by Brown and colleagues (2011) revealed that students from schools that executed this program were found to be more ready to participate in bullying situations, exhibited higher levels of student climate and positive bystander behaviour and less bullying-related issues were reported by the school staff. Not only does this program change the attitude of affected students attitude towards bullying, but it also creates an environment where bullying behaviour is less accepted and reinforced.
Some people may suggest that it is important that schools adopt a zero-tolerance policy against bullying. Zero tolerance policy is characterised by the use of severe penalties, mainly suspension and expulsion, for both major and minor violations of the school’s disciplinary code to make bullies repent for their mistakes. It allows the administrators to act swiftly with this fast-acting intervention and send out a clear message that offences are not tolerated in the school under any circumstances. According to National School Safety Center (2011), 9 out of 10 who participated in a poll mentioned that zero tolerance was essential for keeping schools safe, even though they resulted in an increase in student suspensions. Thus, zero-tolerance policy not only removes students who engage in disruptive behaviours but also maintains a safe environment and deters others from disruption. This explains why schools turn to the zero-tolerance policy as a mean to discipline and shape the child.
Nonetheless, the zero-tolerance policy is an ineffective discipline method. According to a report by the American Psychological Association (2005), it stated that this policy can increase bad behaviour and lead to higher drop-out rates. Studies of suspension have also documented that at-risk students are associated with school drop-outs and juvenile incarceration. This method should be avoided at all costs, although it is can be executed in an instant and serves as the best alternative to combat problems. Bullying not only has detrimental effects on the victim’s psychological health and brain development, but it also causes them to experience somatic experiences as a result. In addition, it also causes deleterious damages to the mental health of the bullies and the bystanders. Educators play a critical role in preventing bullying and also creating a climate of support and empathy inside and outside the classroom. Through incorporating the Steps to Respect curriculum, schools will able to provide more support and guidance to the children. They will then be equipped with the real capacity to be the positive force to diminish these bullying incidences. Bullying has been a part of the society since it’s inception, and will not readily disappear. But going to school can be a healthier and safe experience with the joint effort of the schools, educators and children.
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