Posts Tagged ‘bullying’

by Carly Cassella

Sticks and stones may break your bones, but name-calling could actually change the structure of your brain.

A new study has found that persistent bullying in high school is not just psychologically traumatising, it could also cause real and lasting damage to the developing brain.

The findings are drawn from a long-term study on teenage brain development and mental health, which collected brain scans and mental health questionnaires from European teenagers between the ages of 14 and 19.

Following 682 young people in England, Ireland, France and Germany, the researchers tallied 36 in total who reported experiencing chronic bullying during these years.

When the researchers compared the bullied participants to those who had experienced less intense bullying, they noticed that their brains looked different.

Across the length of the study, in certain regions, the brains of the bullied participants appeared to have actually shrunk in size.

In particular, the pattern of shrinking was observed in two parts of the brain called the putamen and the caudate, a change oddly reminiscent of adults who have experienced early life stress, such as childhood maltreatment.

Sure enough, the researchers found that they could partly explain these changes using the relationship between extreme bullying and higher levels of general anxiety at age 19. And this was true even when controlling for other types of stress and co-morbid depressive symptoms.

The connection is further supported by previous functional MRI studies that found differences in the connectivity and activation of the caudate and putamen activation in those with anxiety.

“Although not classically considered relevant to anxiety, the importance of structural changes in the putamen and caudate to the development of anxiety most likely lies in their contribution to related behaviours such as reward sensitivity, motivation, conditioning, attention, and emotional processing,” explains lead author Erin Burke Quinlan from King’s College London.

In other words, the authors think all of this shrinking could be a mark of mental illness, or at least help explain why these 19-year-olds are experiencing such unusually high anxiety.

But while numerous past studies have already linked childhood and adolescent bullying to mental illness, this is the very first study to show that unrelenting victimisation could impact a teenager’s mental health by actually reshaping their brain.

The results are cause for worry. During adolescence, a young person’s brain is absolutely exploding with growth, expanding at an incredible place.

And even though it’s normal for the brain to prune back some of this overabundance, in the brains of those who experienced chronic bullying, the whole pruning process appears to have spiralled out of control.

The teenage years are an extremely important and formative period in a person’s life, and these sorts of significant changes do not bode well. The authors suspect that as these children age, they might even begin to experience greater shrinkage in the brain.

But an even longer long-term study will need to be done if we want to verify that hunch. In the meantime, the authors are recommending that every effort be made to limit bullying before it can cause damage to a teenager’s brain and their mental health.

This study has been published in Molecular Psychiatry.

https://www.sciencealert.com/chronic-bullying-could-actually-reshape-the-brains-of-teens

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A new app makes finding friends in the school cafeteria a piece of cake.

“Sit With Us” helps students who have difficulty finding a place to sit locate a welcoming group in the lunchroom.

The app allows students to designate themselves as “ambassadors,” thereby inviting others to join them. Ambassadors can then post “open lunch” events, which signal to anyone seeking company that they’re invited to join the ambassadors’ table.

Natalie Hampton, a 16-year-old from Sherman Oaks, California, is the designer of Sit With Us, which launched on September 9. She was inspired to create it after she ate alone her entire seventh grade year, she told LA Daily News. The situation left Hampton feeling vulnerable and made her a target for bullying.

Hampton, now a junior, is attending a different school and is thriving socially. Yet, the memory of sitting alone and being bullied still haunts her, especially since she knows her experience isn’t an isolated one.

Hampton told Audie Cornish on NPR’s “All Things Considered” that the reason why she felt an app like this was necessary is because it prevents kids from being publicly rejected and being considered social outcasts by their peers.

“This way it’s very private. It’s through the phone. No one else has to know,” she explained to Cornish. “And you know that you’re not going to be rejected once you get to the table.”

Hampton might be on to something even more, especially since she’s asking fellow students to take the stand against bullying.

When students ― especially the “cool kids” ― stand up to bullying, it has a significant impact, according to a study conducted by Princeton, Rutgers and Yale University. During a 2012-2013 school year, over 50 New Jersey middle schools provided their most socially competent students with social media tools and encouragement to combat bullying, and saw a reduction in student conflict reports by 30 percent.

Hampton told All Things Considered that since she launched the app last week, she’s already getting positive feedback from her peers.

“People are already posting open lunches at my school,” she told the program. “So I’m very excited that things are already kicking off with a great start.”

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/teen-creates-app-sit-with-us-open-welcoming-tables-lunch-bullying_us_57c5802ee4b09cd22d926463

By Ashley Strickland

Bullying can be defined by many things. It’s teasing, name-calling, stereotyping, fighting, exclusion, spreading rumors, public shaming and aggressive intimidation. It can be in person and online. But it can no longer be considered a rite of passage that strengthens character, new research suggests.

Adolescents who are bullied by their peers actually suffer from worse long-term mental health effects than children who are maltreated by adults, based on a study published last week in The Lancet Psychiatry.

The findings were a surprise to Dr. Dieter Wolke and his team that led the study, who expected the two groups to be similarly affected. However, because children tend to spend more time with their peers, it stands to reason that if they have negative relationships with one another, the effects could be severe and long-lasting, he said. They also found that children maltreated by adults were more likely to be bullied.

The researchers discovered that children who were bullied are more likely to suffer anxiety, depression and consider self-harm and suicide later in life.

While all children face conflict, disagreements between friends can usually be resolved in some way. But the repetitive nature of bullying is what can cause such harm, Wolke said.

“Bullying is comparable to a scenario for a caged animal,” he said. “The classroom is a place where you’re with people you didn’t choose to be with, and you can’t escape them if something negative happens.”

Children can internalize the harmful effects of bullying, which creates stress-related issues such as anxiety and depression, or they can externalize it by turning from a victim to a bully themselves. Either way, the result has a painful impact.

The study also concluded with a call to action, suggesting that while the government has justifiably focused on addressing maltreatment and abuse in the home, they should also consider bullying as a serious problem that requires schools, health services and communities to prevent, respond to or stop this abusive culture from forming.

“It’s a community problem,” Wolke said. “Physicians don’t ask about bullying. Health professionals, educators and legislation could provide parents with medical and social resources. We all need to be trained to ask about peer relationships.”

Stopping bullying in schools

Division and misunderstanding are some of the motivations behind bullying because they highlight differences. If children don’t understand those differences, they can form negative associations, said Johanna Eager, director for the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Welcoming Schools program.

Programs such as Welcoming Schools, for kindergarten through fifth grade, and Not in Our School, a movement for kindergarten through high school, want to help teachers, parents and children to stop a culture of bullying from taking hold in a school or community.

They offer lesson plans, staff training and speakers for schools, as well as events for parents.

Welcoming Schools is focused on helping children embrace diversity and overcome stereotypes at a young age. It’s the best place to start to prevent damaging habits that could turn into bullying by middle school or high school.

The lesson plans aim to help teachers and students by encouraging that our differences are positive aspects rather than negatives, whether it be in appearance, gender or religion, Eager said. They are also designed to help teachers lead discussions and answer tough questions that might come up.

Teachable moments present themselves in these classrooms daily, and Welcoming Schools offers resources to navigate those difficult moments. If they are prepared, teachers can address it and following up with a question.

They cover questions from “Why do you think it’s wrong for a boy to wear pink?” and “What does it mean to be gay or lesbian?” to “Would you be an ally or a bystander if someone was picking on your friend?” and “Why does it hurt when someone says this?”

Welcoming Schools is present in more than 30 states, working with about 500 schools and 115 districts.

Not in Our School has the same mission to create identity-safe school climates that encourage acceptance. They want to help build empathy in students and encourage them to become “upstanders” rather than bystanders.

Their lesson plans and videos, viewed by schools across the country, include teaching students about how to safely intervene in a situation, reach out to a trusted adult, befriend a bullied child or be an activist against bullying. While the role of teachers, counselors and resource officers will always be important, peer-to-peer relationships make a big difference, said Becki Cohn-Vargas, director of Not in Our Schools.

These positive practices can help build self-esteem and don’t focus on punishing bullies because the emphasis is on restorative justice: repairing harm and helping children and teens to change their aggressive behavior.

But it can’t be up to the schools alone.

“What’s really important is getting the public and the medical world to recognize bullying for what it is — a serious issue,” Cohn-Vargas said.

A global problem

Bullying, the study suggests, is a global issue. It is particularly prevalent in countries where there are rigid class divisions between higher and lower income families, Wolke said.

Dr. Tracy Vaillancourt, a University of Ottawa professor and Canada Research Chair for Children’s Mental Health and Violence Prevention, believes that defining bullying can help in how we address it. Look at it as a behavior that causes harm, rather than normal adolescent behavior, she said.

Role models should also keep a close eye on their own behavior, she said. Sometimes, adults can say or do things in front of their children that mimic aggressive behavior, such gossiping, demeaning others, encouraging their children to hit back or allowing sibling rivalry to escalate into something more harmful.

“We tend to admire power,” Vaillancourt said. “But we also tend to abuse power, because we don’t talk about achieving power in an appropriate way. Bullying is part of the human condition, but that doesn’t make it right. We should be taking care of each other. ”

The study compared young adults in the United States and the United Kingdom who were maltreated and bullied in childhood. Data was collected from two separate studies, comparing 4,026 participants from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children in the UK and 1,273 participants from the Great Smoky Mountain Study in the U.S.

The UK data looked at maltreatment from the ages of 8 weeks to 8.6 years, bullying at ages 8, 10 and 13 and the mental health effects at age 18. The U.S. study presented data on bullying and maltreatment between the ages of 9 and 16, and the mental health effects from ages 19 to 25.

http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanpsy/article/PIIS2215-0366(15)00165-0/abstract

Amanda Todd was 15 when she committed suicide.

It was October 10, 2012, about a month after she posted a heart-wrenching video on YouTube, in which she used a series of flashcards to explain how she had been bullied by classmates and anonymous strangers, online and off, over the years. The post went viral after her death. It’s been viewed more than 10 million times on YouTube and is often cited in the ongoing conversation about the need to criminalize cyber bullying.

But for Todd Schobel, punishing bullies once tragedy strikes isn’t enough. What we need, he says, are more ways to catch bullies in the act.

Schobel first heard Amanda’s story while listening to the radio in his car. He was inspired to launch Stop!t, an app that lets students anonymously report bullying. Since launching in August, Stop!t has been adopted by 78 schools in 13 states, and today, the company is announcing it has raised $2.6 million to scale not only in school districts, but on college campuses and in the workplace, as well.

“We all know bullying is never going to go away,” Schobel says, “but we think we can give it a good shot of penicillin.”

The fact is, bullying isn’t what it used to be. The age of the internet has spawned a new type of bully, one that can access its victims anytime, anywhere, with the click of a button. It’s an issue not just for the victims, but for the bystanders as well.

As bullying continues to cause tragedy after tragedy, schools in particular are increasingly being held accountable for failing to intervene. With Stop!t, Schobel wants to arm both victims and bystanders with a tool that can track bullying no matter where it occurs.

“It used to be if it happened on school grounds, schools needed to take action, but if it happened off school grounds, they weren’t obligated,” Schobel says. “With cyberbullying there is no school grounds anymore. If it affects the learning environment for the students, the school has to take action.”

Schools pay a flat rate of $2 to $5 per student per year to use Stop!t. First, a school must sign up and pre-program a list of trusted adults and administrators who should have access to the reports. Students download the app, enter their school’s unique identification code, and when an instance of cyberbullying occurs, they can take a screenshot of the interaction and anonymously send it to the administrative team. It’s that last part that Schobel says is key.

“Cyber abuse often goes unreported, because people don’t tell people,” he says. “They get embarrassed, or there’s fear of retribution or of being called a snitch.”

By reporting anonymously, students can tell administrators who the victims and bullies are without implicating themselves. That has had one important side effect, according to Brian Luciani, principal of David Brearley High School in Kenilworth, New Jersey: Since adopting the app last year, Luciani says, the school has received 75 percent fewer bullying reports.

As Luciani explains it, that’s because the very knowledge that every student has a reporting tool in their pockets is deterring bullies from bullying in the first place. “It would be disingenuous to say it’s all because of the Stop!t app, but I think it was a huge help toward kids thinking twice about what they post and send each other,” Luciani says.

For Schobel, that’s no surprise. “When you increase the likelihood of getting caught, then it becomes a deterrent,” he says.

Schobel is now focusing on ways to get more institutions to adopt Stop!t. He’s looking into working with insurance companies that protect large school districts, which could vastly expand Stop!t’s footprint in schools.

Meanwhile, he and his 17-person team are working on a version of the app that could be easily adapted for other environments like workplaces, college campuses, and even the military. “Unfortunately,” Schobel says, “the market’s gigantic.”

http://www.wired.com/2015/02/stopit/