Bullying is defined as intentional and repetitive aggressive behaviors towards another person in which there is a real or perceived power imbalance present (Man et al., 2022). Forms of bullying include physical violence, verbal bullying, or cyberbullying (electronic bullying on forms of social media).
According to the most recent United States' High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) in 2019, 15.7% of students said that they were electronically bullied via either texting or other forms of social media. In addition, 19.5% of students said they were bullied on school property (CDC, 2020).
Children and adolescents who are bullied tend to be those who (Pigozi & Bartoli, 2016):
- Are physically smaller than the aggressors
- Have physical differences
- Have developmental disabilities
- Have intellectual disabilities
- Have emotional disabilities
- Demonstrate signs of low self-esteem
- Demonstrate signs of low overall self-confidence
For decades bullying has been dismissed as a normal part of growing up. In the past, it was regarded without long-term effects (National Association of School Nurses [NASN], 2018). Research over the past few years has led to a more well-versed understanding of the very serious, life-long consequences that bullying can cause (NASN, 2018).
Common short-term signs and possible long-term chronic consequences of bullying in children and adolescents include (Edi Putra & Dendup, 2022; Sigurdson, 2019; Earnshaw et al., 2017):
- Sleep disturbances
- Irritable bowel disturbances
- Abdominal pain
- Sore throats
- Recurrent upper respiratory infections (URIs)
- Bedwetting (and other regression behaviors)
- Decreased appetite
The effects, however, do not end at the physical signs and symptoms. As of the most recent studies, bullying also contributes to (Edi Putra & Dendup, 2022; Earnshaw et al., 2017):
- Significant depressive symptoms
- The emergence of anxiety disorders
- Increased substance use (alcohol, smoking cigarettes, and illicit drugs)
- Suicidal and/or homicidal ideation
- Physical fighting
- Sedentary behavior
In addition to the psychological impact, bullying can also affect academic achievement and the overall potential of children/adolescents who have been bullied. Those who are bullied tend to have lessened educational success, increased behavioral issues in school and at home, increased absenteeism, and a higher rate of school dropout (Williams et al., 2018).
Due to the physical and emotional effects of bullying as well as the toll it can take on the mental health of the pediatric population, it is important to identify these children and adolescents early. If bullying occurs at school, ensure the school system is equipped with an anti-bullying protocol. For cyberbullying, close monitoring of social media platforms is necessary. It is also helpful to maintain open communication and ask questions about these things so children and adolescents feel more comfortable sharing what might happen to them.