What makes child bullying unique from other types of traumatic experiences is that the perpetrators are often also children. Kids bully other kids for a variety of reasons, some more obvious than others. Studies show the primary motivations that compel bullies are:
- A family environment of either neglect or physical abuse
- A school or institution’s lack of standards around interpersonal treatment
- Positive reinforcement around “acting out” in the form of added attention
- Our culture’s glorification with winning, power, and violence
- A history of the perpetrator him or herself having experienced rejection, failure, or bullying
Usually, bullying comes about as a result of a number of the above factors existing at once. In clinical terms, to officially be considered “bullying,” the behavior needs to take place repeatedly. Interestingly, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was traditionally considered to be a disorder that arose from a single traumatic incident. However, in recent years, experts have begun to identity a second definition for PTSD that allows for the victims of repeated traumatizing incidents. Bullying falls into this category.
Some examples of types of bullying:
- Physical violence toward a child
- Verbal teasing
- Spreading rumors about a child
- Excluding a child from a group
- “Gang up” behavior
- Cyberbullying – using the Internet, Facebook, Twitter, text messaging, or other technology to demean a child
In worst-case scenarios, the abuse of bullying can lead its young victims to suicide, sometimes called “bullycide.” But even though most children grow out of the stage of bullying and being bullied, victims of this hateful crime are still at risk for the long-term effects of PTSD.
With Complex PTSD, victims are “held captive” by their situations. Children who are subject to regular bullying may not have any way out of what they perceive as a trapped situation. Reporting incidents to teachers or other authority figures can be a daunting prospect, as this sort of “tattletale” behavior is so apt to exacerbate the bullying instead of halting it. A pattern of bullying can also be exacerbated by parents who may believe that being pushed around or beat up by your peers “toughens you up” and is just a “natural part of childhood.”
Of course, the best way to avoid PTSD from school bullying later in life is to prevent or stop the problem early on. This takes a vigilant approach on the part of parents and especially on the part of school administrators, as school is the most common place that children experience the harassment of bullying.
Here are some potential signs that a child is experiencing repeated bullying:
- Isolated or disconnected behavior that is not normally a part of the child’s personality.
- Sudden physical complaints – especially ones that prevent the child from attending school or other events
- Degraded performance with schoolwork or difficulty concentrating
- Sleep issues or nightmares
- General malaise, withdrawal, or depression
- A sense of hypervigilance, anxiety, or a high temper
The good news is that the recent media interest in school bullying has resulted in wider awareness of this epidemic, and there are now many resources available that children, parents, peers, and teachers can turn to if they know or suspect that bullying is happening.
Treating Trauma at Milestones
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