The beginning of the school year is often filled with excitement. An opportunity to expand learning, meet new people and rekindle relationships that may have faded over the summer months.
For many students, however, returning to the classroom can cause concern or uncertainty.
While the pressures of achieving better grades, demonstrating good behavior and performing well in extracurricular activities can all contribute to increased anxiety and stress in school-aged children, a significant and highly concerning stressor for many youth continues to be the act of bullying, according to Linda Schmidt, M.D., assistant professor of psychiatry (child and adolescent psychiatry) in the OHSU School of Medicine, OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital.
The impacts can cause low self-esteem, broad health problems or even suicidal ideation.
In 2017, 20% of U.S. students aged 12-18 reported they had experienced bullying, or physical or verbal aggression that is repeated over a period of time. Approximately 30% admitted to bullying others.
“Anyone can be the victim of bullying; however, the action is oftentimes reserved for socially different individuals or those with lower peer acceptance,” explains Schmidt. “Unfortunately, due to broad access to social media, the act of cyberbullying has expanded such harassment beyond school walls, making it increasingly difficult for children to escape.”
Schmidt recommends the following strategies to identify and limit the impact of potential bullying among school-aged children:
- Know the warning signs -- Not every individual will show the impact of bullying. Some signs to look for include:
- Unexplained injuries
- Lost or damaged property, such as clothing, books or electronics
- Changes in eating habits, such as skipping meals or binge eating
- Difficulty sleeping or frequent nightmares
- Declining grades, refusal to attend school or loss of interest in schoolwork
- Frequent illness or self-destructive behavior
- Keep lines of communication open -- Not all children who are being bullied will ask for help. However, if bullying is suspected, simply talking to the child can help identify the cause of the problem.
- Be supportive – Less than half of bullied children report such abuse to their parents. In cases where a child does confide in a parent, adults should listen calmly and offer comfort and support. Remind the child that the bullying is not their fault.
- Take it seriously – Let someone at the school, such as a principal, teacher or counselor, know of bullying concerns and ask for help in monitoring difficult situations.
When bullying enters the picture, the key to mitigation is support and understanding, says Schmidt.
“This remains true even for the child who assumes the role of bully. Often times, there is an underlying cause for aggression, such as low self-esteem or general life difficulties. Getting to the root of the issue through calm, supportive discussion can help to increase confidence and diminish disruptive and dangerous behavior,” she says.