Bullying and Brain Development

It has long been said that physical side effects can accompany bullying.  Many of us have heard about the children who do not want to go to school, who become anorexic or bulimic, who have a myriad of stomach issues due to nerves, all because they are being bullied at school.   Current research is showing specific brain changes evident in those who have been bullied as well. 

One study I found interesting was conducted on mice.  It has been a long-held belief that mice react similarly to humans when put in stressful situations.  If you want to read more about the study, you can find it here.  http://www.livescience.com/13259-bullies-bruise-brains-egos.html.  Basically, scientists found that when mice were subjected to aggressive behavior, they formed more receptors in their brains that allowed it to be flooded with hormones, specifically vasopressin.  This is a hormone released in tense social interactions.  Basically, if a child has more receptors to this hormone, it can make them feel unsafe even if they are in a safe situation.

In Ontario, Canada, a researcher has been following 70 teens who are being bullied.  The brain has already been shown to be different in children of neglect or abuse, and they are suspecting the same is true for children who are bullied.   The brain has already been proven to act differently, now that science has come far enough with MRI’s, scientist can look for structural differences as well.  This study can be found at http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/health/2011367945_bullies.html.  They have also found that boys who are bullied have brains that trigger more cortisol into the system which puts their systems into constant overdrive.  Both say that it is possible that the brain can recover some, but it is unlikely to completely reverse.

When I read things like this, it makes me even more resolved to fight bullying.  My child was subject to bullying for 2 years, and likely, his brain has been changed forever because of this situation.  This also is just more evidence that our primary focus needs to be on the bully.  That child needs swift and quick intervention every bit as much as the child who is being bullied.  If intervention is staged early enough and a child can learn how to be socially appropriate.  Therefore, he or she will have a much greater chance at being a successful adult as well.

As parents, we need to keep demanding that schools address the whole issue, not just hand out punishments.  I have seen many different bullying plans and it seems that most of them are lined with a litany of what will happen in terms of punishment.  I have yet to see a plan that outlines what kind of social training will be put into place for the child doing the bullying.  That is something that we must demand as part of a bullying policy.  Check with you school and see if they have a social intervention plan for those who are doing the bullying.

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About Kim

I am a mom of 2 boys, one who went through a tough bullying situation at a young age. I watch the news and realize we are fortunate to have a happy ending to our story. I want to reach out to other parents and help them to navigate through this wearing time in their life.
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