Recognize the signs to protect your child
Approximately 160,000 children miss school every day in the United States for fear of being bullied. More than 50 suicides have been linked to prolonged bullying and about 85 percent of school shootings have revenge against bullies as a major motive.
School-related bullying has led to depression and poor school performance in many children. The costs of bullying are high, but, unfortunately, many children suffer alone, keeping their bullying experiences to themselves.
Many children are taught that it is a sign of weakness to ask for help and frequently fail to tell anyone when they are being bullied. Many children feel shame and assume, “Something must be wrong with me. Why else would they target me?”
Children who are bullied are at risk for developing a number of emotional difficulties, including depression and anxiety symptoms. Children who are particularly traumatized may go on to develop a specific type of anxiety disorder called, post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD is usually brought on by a terrifying physical or emotional event or series of events. Some of the symptoms of PTSD include trouble sleeping, withdrawal from normal activities, a lack of concentration and emotional numbness.
When children are suffering from PTSD, they are prone to develop strong physical symptoms in situations where they feel unsafe and in danger. They appear disconnected from others, and they experience an intense physical response from their nervous system that involves angry outbursts, jumpiness and hyper alertness. This reaction is the nervous system’s response to potential danger, whether real or imagined, creating constriction, disassociation and helplessness in order to protect the body.
When children experience trauma, they often become frozen and exhibit feelings of helplessness and shame, rendering them nearly unable to defend themselves when attacked or put under pressure. These traumatized children then bring this frozen state of helplessness to many other situations that they perceive as threatening throughout their lives. And the more withdrawn these children become, the more fearful and helpless they feel and the stronger the likelihood that they will slip into serious emotional trouble.
Parents need to be aware of the warning signs when their children are experiencing depression, severe anxiety, or PTSD that may be due to bullying. Here are some red flags for parents.
- Is your child disconnecting from people and isolating herself in their room? Although teens usually separate from the family, they normally connect more often with their friends.
- Has your child developed physical problems such as stomachaches and headaches that interfere with their life?
- Has your child’s schoolwork recently suffered and is it difficult for your child to concentrate?
- Does your child have trouble falling or staying asleep or experience frequent nightmares?
- Does your child seem listless, unenthusiastic, and disinterested in life?
- Have you noticed that your child seems hyper vigilant, extremely nervous, depressed, or emotionally explosive (beyond the normal teenage angst and moodiness)?
If you suspect your child is suffering from any of the above symptoms and they are interfering with his life and you have not been able to help alleviate his suffering, you should consider having your child evaluated by a licensed psychologist, licensed marriage and family counselor or licensed social worker. If you can’t afford to pay for private therapy sessions, many cities have low-cost therapy clinics. Check with your city or county department of mental health.
Dr. Ted Zeff is the author of The Strong, Sensitive Boy. Visit www.drtedzeff.com to learn more.