The next time your child claims to be sick just to get out of school, or they complain of chronic headaches or develop a mysterious skin problem, don’t look the other way. Just because you think they’re faking or the problem may be nothing to run to the doctor about, it doesn’t mean that their young bodies aren’t trying to tell you something that they can’t even say.
A review of studies from 15 countries reveals that such low-level health concerns might actually be part of a bigger problem: bullying. Each reviewed study examined links between being bullied and psychosomatic problems in children and adolescents compared to the mental state of their peers who were not bullied. Children, their parents, and their teachers all reported data for the studies, which clearly indicated that bullied children were more than twice as likely to report pains and other physical symptoms than their peers who were not bullied.
The study found that some of the most common complaints included headache, backache, abdominal pain, skin problems, sleeping problems, bed-wetting, dizziness, nervousness, feeling tired, or poor appetite. Needless to say, parents and doctors should be on the lookout for these symptoms in children, as they may be a result of bullying and could lead to even bigger problems than a few strong words or shoves against the locker.
The study that was published in the journal Pediatrics was led by Gianluca Gini, of the Developmental and Social Psychology department at the University of Padua in Italy. "The most serious consequence of bullying is suicide,” Gini told Reuters, “but these health problems can negatively impact the quality of life of many children for several years." In fact, the symptoms were found to be long-lasting and were often paired with low self-esteem.
Another interesting find concluded that when there were more boys in the study, the links to physical aggression went up. Dr. Stephen Leff, co-director of the Violence Prevention Initiative at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, noted that in the past, boys were more often thought of as bullies, but this study now shows that while girls tend to be less physical, their bullying damage is no less significant. Girls typically bully by way of gossiping or excluding a certain peer, thus leading to feelings of worthlessness or solidarity.
While not all kids will show physical symptoms as a result of bullying, and likewise not all kids who develop these symptoms will have been bullied, this study is still a very strong reminder to pay attention to your children’s needs. It may be easier to pass off their morning grogginess as something funny they ate yesterday or as a ruse to get out of school, but being proactive never hurt anyone.
"Kids may not be communicating with adults or even other kids about their bullying problems,” Leff says, “and physical things like this can be important warning signs we don't want to miss."