David Robson – BBC Future
posted on 5/19/2022 2:55 PM / updated on 5/19/2022 2:55 PM
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Lady Gaga, Shawn Mendes, Blake Lively, Karen Elson, Eminem, Kate Middleton and Mike Nichols — these are just a few people who have spoken about their experiences as being bullied at school and the pain it caused them in childhood and beyond. of life.
My tormentors at school were a couple of Daniels in rural Yorkshire. They had a habit of imitating and mocking everything I said, so I hardly dared speak in class.
Anyone who was bullied as a child will understand the feelings of shame this type of experience can bring. And the consequences don’t stop there.
Recent research suggests that the effects of childhood bullying can last for decades, with lasting changes that can put us at greater risk for mental and physical health problems.
Such findings are prompting an increasing number of educators to shift their views on bullying—from an inevitable element of growing up to a violation of children’s human rights.
“People used to think that bullying in schools is normal behavior and that in some cases it could even be a good thing — because it builds character,” explains Louise Arseneault, a professor of developmental psychology at King’s College London in the UK. United.
“It took a long time to [os pesquisadores] start to look at bullying behavior as something that can be really harmful”.
Faced with this shift in mindset, many researchers are testing various programs to combat bullying — with some exciting new strategies to create a kinder school environment.
Inflamed mind, inflamed body
There can be little doubt that bullying is a serious risk to children’s mental health in the short term, with the most notable consequences being heightened anxiety, depression and paranoid thinking.
While some of these symptoms may disappear naturally once the bullying is over, many victims continue to be at increased risk for mental health problems.
According to a recent article in the Harvard Review of Psychiatry, a woman who was bullied as a child is 27 times more likely to have panic disorder in early adulthood.
Among men, childhood bullying resulted in an 18-fold increase in suicidal thoughts and behavior.
“There are all these associations, which are solid and reproduced in different samples,” says Arseneault.
Bullying also has lingering consequences for people’s social lives: many victims find it more difficult to make friends in adulthood and are less likely to live with a long-term partner.
One possibility is that they find it difficult to trust the people around them.
“Children who have been bullied may interpret social relationships in a more threatening way,” notes Arseneault.
Finally, there are the academic and economic costs. Bullying hurts victims’ grades, which in turn reduces their job prospects—meaning they are more prone to financial instability and unemployment in early adulthood and middle age.
Arseneault’s research suggests that the resulting stress can affect the body for decades afterward.
When analyzing data from a 50-year longitudinal study, she found that frequent bullying between the ages of seven and 11 was associated with markedly higher levels of inflammation at age 45.
Importantly, the relationship remained even after she controlled for a number of other factors, including diet, physical activity, and smoking.
This is important, as elevated inflammation can impair the immune system and contribute to the wear and tear of our organs, leading to conditions like diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Taken together, these findings suggest that attempts to eliminate bullying are not only a moral imperative to alleviate children’s immediate suffering, they can offer long-term health benefits for the population.
When I was at school in the UK in the 1990s and early 2000s, there were no systematic campaigns to tackle bullying more broadly. Teachers would punish certain behaviors—if they were observed.
But it was the student’s responsibility to report the problem, which meant that many cases were ignored.
Some teachers would tacitly endorse bullying, turning a blind eye to obvious issues, while others — a rare but toxic minority — actively sided with bullies.
Certain types of bullying can also be tolerated because they reflect broader societal prejudices.
For example, a significant proportion of children of lesbian mothers reported in a longitudinal study being teased or bullied because of their family arrangement, although parental support cushioned the impact. LGBTQ youth are also more likely to experience bullying and other assaults at school.
Schools, however, tended to ignore homophobic bullying in the past.
Fortunately, ongoing research can now provide some proven anti-bullying strategies that can help.
The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program is one of the most widely tested programs. It was developed by the late Swedish-Norwegian psychologist Dan Olweus, who led much of the early academic research on child victimization.
The program is based on the idea that individual cases of bullying are often the product of a broader culture that tolerates victimization. As a result, it tries to address the entire school ecosystem to prevent misbehavior from thriving.
Like many other interventions, the Olweus Program starts with problem recognition. For this reason, schools should prepare a questionnaire to ask students about their experiences.
“Knowing what’s going on is very important and can guide your bullying prevention efforts,” says Susan Limber, a professor of developmental psychology at Clemson University in South Carolina, USA.
The Olweus Program encourages the school to set very clear expectations of what is acceptable behavior — and the consequences if you violate these rules.
“At [sanções] shouldn’t be a surprise to the child,” says Limber.
Adults should act as positive role models who reinforce good behaviors and show zero tolerance for any form of victimization.
They should also learn to identify the places within the school where bullying is most likely to occur and supervise them regularly.
“All the adults at the school need some basic bullying training — the cafeteria workers, the bus drivers, the inspectors,” says Limber.
In classrooms, children themselves hold meetings to discuss the nature of bullying — and ways they can help students who are victims of this misbehavior.
The goal, with all this, is to ensure that the anti-bullying message is rooted in the institution’s culture.
Working with Olweus, Limber tested the program in a variety of scenarios, including large-scale implementation in more than 200 schools in Pennsylvania.
Their analysis suggests that the program resulted in 2,000 fewer cases of bullying in two years. Importantly, the researchers also observed changes in the general attitude of school populations toward bullying, including greater empathy for victims.
Limber’s results aren’t the only ones to show that systematic campaigns against bullying can bring about positive change.
A recent meta-analysis, which analyzed the results of 69 trials, concluded that anti-bullying campaigns at school not only reduce victimization, but also improve students’ overall mental health.
Interestingly, the length of the programs did not seem to predict their chances of success.
“Even a few weeks of intervention were effective,” says David Fraguas of the Institute of Psychiatry and Mental Health at Hospital Clínico San Carlos in Madrid, Spain, who was the study’s lead author.
Despite strong evidence, these interventions have not yet been incorporated into national education programs in most counties.
“We’re not doing what we know now to be effective,” he says.
sharing is caring
Bullying doesn’t stop at school, of course, and Limber argues that parents and caregivers should be on the lookout for signs that indicate there might be a problem.
“You have to be proactive and bring it up — don’t wait for it to come up,” she says.
“You can do this as part of a conversation like, ‘How’s it going with your friends? Do you have a problem?’
It emphasizes that the adult must take the child’s concerns seriously—even if they seem trivial from an outside perspective—while keeping a cool head.
“Listen carefully and try to keep your emotions in check as you listen.”
The caregiver should avoid making rash suggestions as to how the child might deal with the problem, as this can sometimes give the impression that the victim is somehow to blame for the experience.
If so, the parent or guardian should initiate a conversation with the school, who should immediately come up with a plan to ensure the child feels safe.
“The first thing is to focus on this child and his experiences.”
Growing up will seldom be easy: children and teenagers are learning to manage social relationships and this will come with grief and annoyance.
But as adults, we can do a much better job of teaching children that certain types of behavior are never acceptable: there is no one to blame but the abusers themselves.
These lessons could have a widespread impact on the health and happiness of many future generations.
read the original version of this report (in English) on the website BBC Future.
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