Effects of Bullying on Your Child with Social Anxiety

How Bullying Can Make it Worse and What to Do

Girls usually bully by excluding others from social circles.
Girls usually bully by excluding others from social circles.. Photo © Microsoft

The first step to helping your bullied child is learning more about the effects of bullying. You probably have seen a change in your child's behavior that has you worried.

What are the immediate and long-term effects of bullying? Will bullying make your child's social anxiety worse? And what can you do to help your child cope?

How Common is Bullying?

Bullying has become an increasingly common occurrence in schools and playgrounds.

Whether it is cyber bullying, harassment at school, or physical violence on the school bus, many children live in fear. If you have a socially anxious child, bullying may be even more prevalent.

About one in five children will be bullied from elementary through high school. Bullies pick on children who have trouble defending themselves. Sometimes victims of bullying even become bullies themselves.

Signs of a Bullied Child

How can you tell if your child with social anxiety is being bullied? Look for warning signs such as the following: 

  • change in desire to go to school
  • damaged or lost belongings
  • sadness or anxiety
  • physical ailments
  • trouble sleeping

Hidden Bullying and Long-Term Effects

Most children who are bullied do not tell anyone. In particular, older boys are less likely to report bullying. Pay attention to changes in your child's behavior and emotions so that you can pick up on bullying that is being hidden.

The long-term effects of bullying on a child can include problems with self-esteem and anxiety. It is important to intervene early if you suspect that bullying is taking place.

Why Bullies Target Those with Social Anxiety

Children who are socially anxious become targets of bullies for a number of reasons.

Specifically, bullies tend to target children who exhibit the following:

  • have few friends or spend a lot of time alone
  • lack assertiveness
  • appear vulnerable and have low self-esteem
  • have poor social skills or problems developing friendships

Children who have few friends are unable to defend themselves and those with low feelings of self-worth may not stand up for themselves.

Bullying Makes Social Anxiety Worse

Some studies have been conducted with mice and rats to investigate the effects of bullying. Though this might sound strange, rodents are believed to have similar stress responses as humans, so this type of research is actually helpful.

In one study, mice were exposed to a "mouse bully" over the course of 10 days and changes in the brain of the stressed mice were examined. Results indicated that the hormone vasopressin was activated which led to an increase in brain receptors sensitive to social stimuli. After the stress, the bullied mice stayed away from all other mice, even friendly ones.

In a second study, rats were also subjected to social stress, but were either housed with another rat or alone before and after the stress. Findings showed that the stressed rats who had been paired with a friend before and after were more resilient and better able to recover. 

In a related study with humans, researchers found the following:

  • bullying during adolescence leads to an increased risk of symptoms of social anxiety disorder
  • boys with social anxiety are more likely to be bullied
  • reporting bullying can be extremely difficult for children with social anxiety

How to Cope with Bullying

If your child is being bullied you are probably very anxious to put a stop to it. Below are some tips to do just that.

  1. Be open about discussing the bullying and don't criticize how your child has handled the situation so far.
  2. Inform your child's teacher and principal about the bullying. Make sure that your child has an adult at school that he can tell if he is being bullied.
  3. Encourage your child to develop friendships at school. Identify safe places that she can go outside of school if she feels threatened, such as a block parent's home.
  4. If there is not already a bullying prevention program in place at your child's school you may wish to make the suggestion.

Sources:

Buwalda B, Stubbendorff C, Zickert N, Koolhaas JM. Adolescent social stress does not necessarily lead to a compromised adaptive capacity during adulthood: A study on the consequences of social stress in rats. Neuroscience. 2013 Sep 26;249:258-70.

Litvin Y, Murakami G, Pfaff DW. Effects of chronic social defeat on behavioral and neural correlates of sociality: Vasopressin, oxytocin, and the vasopressinergic V1b receptor. Physiology & Behavior. 2011 June;103(3-4):393-403.

Ranta K, Kaltiala-Heino R, Fröjd S, Marttunen M. Peer victimization and social phobia: A follow-up study among adolescents. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology. 2013 April; 48(4):533-544.

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