Continuing in this Back-To-School month with a focus on the health of our children, let’s talk about something uncomfortable.
Let’s talk about something that we *need* to be talking about more.
Let’s talk about something positive that we can do to protect the physical and mental well being of our children for the rest of their lives: end bullying.
Published in JAMA Psychiatry in Feb, 2016, the largest study ever to look at childhood bullying documents something we already *know* — that victims of bullying in childhood have painful, lasting ramifications well into adulthood.
- Researchers looked at over 60,0000 children born from Jan to December in 1981, and identified over 5,000 of them who had been bullied or exposed to bullying.
- Researchers assessed the children at 8 years old (in 1989) to determine the presence and extent of bullying.
- Researchers then followed them into adulthood, through 2009.
- The participants were assessed based on whether they required treatment of psychiatric disorders as older teens and young adults (ages 16 – 29.)
- Children who were not bullied and were not engaging in bully behavior had a baseline 11% rate of psychiatric diagnosis by the age of 29 years.
- Children who were exposed to bullying (witness to bullying) had a 23% rate of psychiatric diagnosis by the age of 29.
- Children who both were exposed to bullying AND then engaged in bullying behaviors had a 31% rate of psychiatric diagnosis by the time they were 29 years old.
- Being exposed to bullying — even just witnessing bullying — doubled the rates of psychiatric diagnosis in adulthood, including depression, anxiety disorders, and psychosis.
- Being bullied and subsequently bullying others almost *triples* the rates of a psychiatric disorder diagnosed in adulthood.
The Bottom Line:
Being subjected to bullying — AND EVEN JUST WITNESSING BULLYING — significantly raises the risk of depression, anxiety and even psychosis in adulthood.
If being bullied, bullying others, or even just witnessing bullying activity doubles and even triples the rates of psychiatric disorder severe enough to require diagnosis and treatment as an adult — then anti-bullying campaigns are just not enough.
We need to do more.
Bullying is abuse.
Doesn’t matter what the reason a child is being bullied for.
Looks, grades, size, shape, gender, sexuality… bullying causes lasting psychological damage.
In 2012 I blogged about a medical study that shows that physical punishment (in the form of spanking) causes a steep rise in psychiatric disorders… and this newer study shows that bullying behaviors — even ones where the child is never touched… just WITNESSING intimidating behaviors — is creating lasting psychological damage.
Child abuse happens in all races, all socioeconomic levels, all countries.
Estimates are that about 40 MILLIONS children EVERY SINGLE YEAR are abused world wide.
These studies serve to show it’s absolutely not just a concern over the child’s immediate safety and well being, but it is also a concern for long term health outcomes that reach well into adulthood.
Long term health consequences are not limited to physical health disorders such as adrenal fatigue, obesity, heart disease and cancer, but dramatically increase the incidence of psychiatric disorders in our adult population… including anxiety, depression, psychosis, suicide, addiction, PTSD and more.
Child abuse leaves epigenetic marks on the child’s genetic make up…
…inducing chemical changes in the way DNA is methylated and the way genes are expressed, activated or silenced.
This alters the way a cell functions and the way that organs and the body as a whole functions, causing poor health outcomes later in life.
Published in the May 14, 2013 in the Proceedings for the National Academy of Sciences, researchers show that childhood maltreatment causes different patterns of DNA methylation and genetic expression, causing a change in a child’s epigenetic profile.
So what can we do?
You know I never provide any form of upsetting medical literature without giving you positive, holistic tools to effect real change.
So here are several life changing things you absolutely can do, today:
1. Boost your child’s resiliency by being affectionate to your children during childhood.
Parents who are affectionate during childhood support long term well being in their children, well into adulthood…
…mitigating some of the damage of childhood bullying.
According to research conducted by Darcai Narvaez at the University of Notre Dame, adults who reported that they received physical affection from their parents and felt supported by their parents, as well as did things as a family both inside and outside of the home, had lower rates of depression, lower rates of anxiety, less stress in social situations and a greater ability for empathetic behavior.
For more ideas on how to parent for the well being of your child, I’ve written an entire book dedicated to presenting the latest medical information and uplifting positive parenting ideas to support an entire lifetime of optimized well being in your child.
It’s a fun, heart centered parenting workbook that blends the past 15 years of my experience as a physician with my own parenting journey as a mother of two beautiful children.
I wanted my children to know that health is their natural state of being.
I want your children to know that too.
So I wrote it all down for you.
2. Let your child adopt a pet
I strongly suggest if at all possible, you allow your child to have a favorite pet during childhood.
Having pets has not only been found to cut asthma rates in half (as published on November 2, 2015 in JAMA Pediatrics) but it gives them many psychological benefits such as:
- giving children a very healthy exposure to unconditional love
- providing stability and continuity during times of unavoidable stress in the child’s life (such as during a move to a new home, entering a new school, or a change in the family dynamics such as a death or divorce)
- providing a framework to talk about holistic and important topics such as death (as inevitably pets have a shorter life span than humans and often the death of a pet is a very healthy introduction to speaking about death before it pertains to a human family member such as the loss of a grandparent) and reproduction (my kids saw many a baby being born by their guinea pigs, rabbits, and chickens, even hand bottle fed baby birds and helped house train all their puppies!)
Loving and caring for a special pet is a priceless, priceless gift during childhood.
3. Providing lots of exposure to positive, uplifting connections with others
As I blog about here, a positive mood is actually contagious in children and children who spend time around others who are uplifting have HALF the risk of depression as a teen!
If you are concerned about your child’s mind-frame, encourage them to get connecting:
- play sports
- join clubs
- connect with safe, positive friends
- connect with safe, positive family members
- connect with their community
- and connect with therapists or other supportive mental health professionals if necessary…
…because medical studies prove that being around others with a good mood helps not only in the short term (transforming the energy of that interaction) but is protective over time to help decrease both incidence and prevalence of depression.
P.S. Want some other things you can do to holistically decrease risk of depression in your child?
Here are some links to previous blog posts that might help!