From the Shit I Could Have Told You files – Bullying is bad for you.

A study just published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry found that adults who were bullied as children were more likely than others to suffer from depression and anxiety, as well as a host of physical ills, including fatigue, pain and a greater susceptibility to colds.

…scientists suspect that the daily stress of being bullied can translate into long-term damage to your body.

Parents also need to remember to help repair the damage that bullying does to a child’s self-esteem, says Pollack. “You need to tell the child that this isn’t happening because there’s something wrong with him.”

In short, if your kid is getting bullied for being fat, putting him on a diet probably isn’t the best way to handle it.

I don’t know about you all, but I’ve often picked up on this kind of cultural attitude that says, “Well, I was bullied at school, and it sucked, but that’s just the way it is and you have to learn to deal with it.” And that bothers me.

Why? Well, not discounting the fact that sometimes people can turn horrid experiences into valuable lessons for themselves later in life, I don’t think bullying accomplishes anything. I don’t think anyone needs to be bullied in order to grow into a productive adult.

And it’s hell to go through.

So, to me, the idea that because kids have always been bullied, they should therefore continue to be bullied and just put up with it, is bullshittery of the highest order.

Just…no.

Kids benefit from being with other kids, yes. And, yes, using the public school system is a necessity for most families.

But putting kids together in great enough numbers that they can’t be properly supervised? That’s asking for all sorts of Lord of the Flies shit to go down in the margins.

And not because kids are naturally evil, but because kids aren’t born civil and socialized. Just like puppies aren’t born knowing not to eat your couch, or not to pee in your shoes. It takes years and years of learning.

If you want kids to grow up to be well-socialized, to be good citizens and adults, then they need to have enough contact with well-socialized good citizens and adults. Meaning, I believe there needs to be a higher ratio of adults to children than there currently is in places where kids are cared for, whether it’s school or daycare or maybe even home.

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27 Comments

  1. Posted January 27, 2010 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    If you haven’t already, you have to watch this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=92rWQ-OIb1Y

    Says it all.

  2. sannanina
    Posted January 27, 2010 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    You are so right. But I don’t think just having more teachers etc will be enough to solve the problem. My sister works as a social worker in a school and she says a lot of teachers simply deny that there is bullying going on in their classroom.

    On a side note – I bet I have a genetic predisposition as well, but considering that my very own brand of depression is linked very closely to social phobia and that my social phobia revolves around all the stupid things that other kids said to me when I was in school (as well as what some doctors and even some teachers said to me) I am pretty sure having been the victim of bullying as a child plays a role in being a depressed adult. And I agree: Encouraging a kid to change in order to avoid bullying (for example to lose weight) is never a good way to intervene. Actually, it really is the only major thing that I wish my loving, wonderful parents would have done differntly. They never said and never meant to imply that I somehow deserved to be bullied because I was fat. But the fact that they thought something was wrong with my body and that this something was the exact same thing other people chose as a justification for picking on me was enough to establish that link in my mind and to this day I have a hard time truly BELIEVING that I deserve to be treated decently.

    (PS: I hope you make progress studying chemistry. I personally love the subject, but it actually took me a long time to realize that a) I am perfectly able to do chemistry – especially organic chemistry and b) it’s actually fun.)

  3. Posted January 27, 2010 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    My favorite study ever came out sometime in the last ten years (too lazy to Google it) confirming that . . . wait for it . . . fat kids get bullied more than thin kids! No shite, Sherlock! I swear, I wanted to start a letter writing campaign for them to give ME the money spent on that survey and I would then talk their ears off for however long they wanted about how fat kids are bullied more. The stuff I can’t believe they have to study to confirm…

    • Ross Kennedy, Dietetic Intern
      Posted January 30, 2010 at 10:32 am | Permalink

      Considering that the anecdotal evidence that fat kids are bullied more is overwhelming, some people still need the scientific evidence as proof. So if it were to come up in say, a lawsuit, the study showing that the rest of us aren’t crazy is justified. You know how defense attorneys can be. It wouldn’t be enough to just have psychologists testify.

  4. Chris Gregory
    Posted January 27, 2010 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

    Bullying (or any type of abuse) tends to perpetuate itself. Children who were abused often grow up and duplicate the abuse they received, I think particularly in more extreme cases. I think the process may just involve a gradual drain on the individual’s capacity for empathy. It dehumanises the subject of the abuse.

    I have more experience of this sort of thing with bringing up dogs. In the last thirty years or so, dog training methods have changed greatly. While they once relied on punishment almost exclusively, now some trainers reward good behaviour and ignore bad behaviour. So no choking, or chiding, or even saying ‘no’. Just positive reinforcement. While dogs are much simpler creatures than humans, the success of positive reinforcement methods with dogs is pretty astounding. Nowadays, dogs can be taught behaviours once considered improbably difficult to learn. I recommend looking for ‘doggie dancing’ on YouTube to give you an idea.

  5. Posted January 27, 2010 at 10:08 pm | Permalink

    Why don’t you write smarter, more relevant stuff about things your average American needs to think about and discuss more?

    Oh right: because that’s NOT POSSIBLE. Because you are all kinds of awesome and this article is just another example.

    You are, incidentally, talking about something so close to my heart; and thank you for that.

    So, to me, the idea that because kids have always been bullied, they should therefore continue to be bullied and just put up with it, is bullshittery of the highest order.

    I really, really agree with this; when my own kids were younger I used to be more of the, “Well, the world’s just LIKE that, deal with it” type of parent. Over time I realized this was crap. Those of us who have the choice – as adults – tend to avoid bullies. Most of us aren’t forced into large groups of people of the same-age who behave with poor impulse control. And when we are bullied – as adults – what do we want? Compassion and assistance – not, “Tough titty, too bad”.

    The idea that just because there are lots of people in a public school setting (kids who may or may not be properly supported and supervised), and the virtue of being around “lots of kids” is proper socialization and means that whatever happens on the playground (in the classroom) must be OK no matter what? Feck that.

    It’s hard enough to be bullied as a child when you don’t have the knowledge someone (parents, teachers, mentors) has your back. Saying, “Well if you’re fat, you should diet and then you won’t be bullied” is NOT having your child’s back – and it’s also not taking the bullies to account for their actions. Besides: I’ve seen enough kid behaviors to know that when packs of kids (or a couple kids) target someone it’s not for logical, good, evo psyche (blarf!) reasons that point to a “condition” that needs correcting (like being fat, or female, or gay, or dark-skinned, or poor, or shy). Continuing to focus on how the victims of bullying should just DEAL with it, and all the reasons the victim INVITES the bullying, is one sure way to further perpetrate a bullying culture.

    We homeschool (unschool), but my kids still get to interact with lots and lots of kids in their sports programs, roller skating, library programs, and swim team. Not all kid activities are equal; their homeschooling sports are physically active and multi-age, but attended and administrated in ways that mean everyone can have a good time and kids get help if they are hurt. Just last week my son (5) was hit in the face by a hyperactive 14 year old who has been disciplined multiple times because she is rough to younger kids and seems to have poor impulse control (she is an anomaly in a group of really well-behaved kids). The teacher was very sweet to my son, and soon he had an ice pack then resumed playing again happily, with no fear or grudge. The important thing to me is not that my pwecious widdle baby never be hurt, it’s that when he’s hurt, he’s helped, we move on. Most of my kids’ activities are this way and I can see how it’s helping their self-image, problem-solving, and confidence. Gee, do they really NEED humiliating memories dished out by sociopaths? If so, how many?

    Incidentally: I have yet to meet children who are as direct as my own, who respond well to adversity (dished out by child or adult alike), and who take responsibility for their actions when they are the perpetrators. I’m not bragging… I’m saying that having my kids out of the public environment does not seem to have hurt them in any way, and I have every reason to believe it’s helped.

    Obviously not every family will want to take their child out of the public/private systems, and not every family can even if they wanted to. That said, for those who are in school, I think we would do our kids a great service to reframe our mindset on bullying; and the points you make are a great start.

    • Posted January 27, 2010 at 10:34 pm | Permalink

      The important thing to me is not that my pwecious widdle baby never be hurt, it’s that when he’s hurt, he’s helped, we move on. Most of my kids’ activities are this way and I can see how it’s helping their self-image, problem-solving, and confidence. Gee, do they really NEED humiliating memories dished out by sociopaths? If so, how many?

      Exxxxactly. If I ever have kids, they’re getting homeschooled. But I’m sure that comes as no surprise :)

  6. Regina T
    Posted January 28, 2010 at 12:26 am | Permalink

    As a formerly bullied child, and now a sometimes dehumanized adult (cuz I haz da fatz) I can tell you first hand that bullying is damaging. There is no honor in surviving daily verbal, emotional, and sometimes physical attacks through nearly 13 years of school. It did not make me stronger. It did not make me more grateful for what I had. It did nothing to enhance my life in any positive way whatsoever. Additionally, IT DID NOT MAKE ME WANT TO BULLY OTHERS!

    All bullying accomplishes is a power trip for the bullier. Seriously, that’s the only outcome for that kind of behavior. It serves to inflate their ego, make them feel superior, and get them off on the belittlement and suffering of another. Bullies are the scum of the earth who grow up to teach their own kids how to bully….perpetuating the power trip. It is a rare thing for a bully to come to some epiphany about the evilness of their ways. The most they come close to is some sort of justification for themselves with reasoning such as “Kids will be kids” and “I didn’t know any better”…..Bullshit like that that allows them to live with themselves. Most of the time they spend their adult lives trying to live up to some standard that will never truly satisfy them or make them better human beings….and ridiculing everyone else for not being able to live up to their standards either.

  7. Posted January 28, 2010 at 1:03 am | Permalink

    Bullying truly is awful, and I hope schools and other places that supervise children learn to take it seriously. I was bullied more by my mom and sister than schoolmates. I could have used less parental supervision, and actually did move out a few times as a kid.

    BTW, my landlord got Chris’s dog rearing advice, and it’s not working at all. The dog absolutely doesn’t have any concept that he’s not doing right. I think dogs and children really need to hear and understand “no!”

    • Chris Gregory
      Posted January 28, 2010 at 3:53 am | Permalink

      It’s very hard to teach a dog that a certain behaviour is wrong. Instead, you teach it that some other behaviour is right. It may require some thinking, but it’s more effective.

      Okay, for example, you reward a dog for pooping on the newspaper. That’s a very clear message. Punishing a dog when it doesn’t go on the paper is unclear. The dog doesn’t really get what it’s being punished for, or how to avoid geting punished by any means other than trial and error. It’s most likely just going to think that you’re just a total psycho who is acting out of sheer cruelty.

      Kids…I think kids should be treated the same way. You should establish consistent boundaries, but other than that, you should always avoid just saying ‘no’.

    • Posted January 28, 2010 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, especially in cases where the positive adult relationships aren’t happening at home, I think kids need more direct contact (like, actual friendships) with adults. Like Big Brothers and Sisters stuff, but more pervasive throughout society.

  8. Posted January 28, 2010 at 1:28 am | Permalink

    My brother (who happens to be quite thin, but was also very sensitive and cried easily) was bullied terribly in middle school and often came home crying. His teachers and principal did nothing and the counselors tried to help but didn’t really have the authority to make much of a difference. Eventually, my brother just learned never to show emotions, which makes me incredibly sad, because he’s still very unemotive as a 22-year-old. Luckily he developed strong friendships in high school and college, but I think middle school had a strong impact on how he developed socially and emotionally, which still makes me sad.

    I, on the other hand, never got bullied, which always surprised me, since I felt chubby throughout middle and high school (though, looking back, I really wasn’t) and thought I would have been a natural target. The idea makes me uncomfortable, but my parents attribute it to my “don’t fuck with me” nature; my brother was (and is) much quieter. At the same time, I’d never want to imply the inverse – that someone more like my brother is somehow “inviting” bullying. Inherent parts of who we are, whether physical, emotional, or personality, don’t ever means that someone somehow deserves to be bullied.

    In retrospect, I really don’t remember much fat-bashing, at least not in high school; there were a number of bigger girls (and guys) who were fairly popular. I suspect that there was still a lot of diet talk – I know there was from my end, since I was on and off Weight Watchers for close to 10 years – but I really didn’t see a ton of bullying. I really don’t know if this is luck, obliviousness, or something else.

  9. Posted January 28, 2010 at 6:01 am | Permalink

    Wow. They needed a study to discover that bullying is traumatic and that trauma can be felt for years afterwards? Gold star for stating the obvious, researchers.

    But to dealing with bullies: my mother was of the ‘ignore them and they will go away’ persuasion – which, by the way, they don’t. I didn’t know how to strike the balance of assertiveness rather than going for the extremes of passivity (as advised by my mother) and aggression (as advised by my grandfather). I think the powerlessness the victim feels contributes to the trauma. But I think there is a lot more focus on anti-bullying education for parents and kids these days. Has anyone come in contact with it?

    • Posted January 28, 2010 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

      I know, right?

      But the interesting thing about this study (and, full disclosure, I haven’t read the actual study yet, just the article about it) is that they linked bullying to future physical illness. What interests me about that, in particular, is that some people have posited that the disease associations with obesity might actually come from poor treatment in society.

      And there does seem to be more anti-bullying education going on, and more focus on it in general in the past decade or so. What I disagree with, however, are the kind of Zero Tolerance policies that end up with ridiculous results. I think it’s an attempt on the school’s part to shift blame onto the *individual bullies*, and I don’t think that’s actually the way to go about it.

      I think kids bully (for the most part) because they don’t know any better, not because they are inherently evil. And I think the only way for them to know any better is to have more direct contact with positive adult role-models — but that’s, you know, expensive and unwieldy, so zero tolerance policies get put into place instead. Because they’re cheap and they put out individual fires. But they don’t address the actual, systemic problem.

  10. meerkat
    Posted January 28, 2010 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    “Meaning, I believe there needs to be a higher ratio of adults to children than there currently is in places where kids are cared for, whether it’s school or daycare or maybe even home.”

    It also helps if the adults actually give a crap. I was bullied every single day in elementary school, and I learned that unless I was physically hit (which I think only happened once) there was absolutely no way in hell that the teachers would try to discourage the bullying in any way whatsoever (I figure they didn’t want me getting ideas that I was so super awesome special that I deserved fancy privileges like not being tormented every single day, either that or it was just too much trouble). They also didn’t tell my parents anything about it. On the positive side, they never told me to quit being so fat either. The only thing they ever told me was to “just stay away from” the people who were bullying me.

    • Posted January 28, 2010 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

      Good point. I was also explicitly harassed in front of one of my teachers, who didn’t do anything. I think because she didn’t know what to do or how to do it.

      • meerkat
        Posted January 29, 2010 at 9:51 am | Permalink

        True, it would not have been an easy task for the teachers to stop everyone bullying the fat ugly weird nerd who wore stupid looking pants. (I did eventually stop wearing stupid looking pants and after that it only took a few more years, maybe about five, for the other students to grow out of their most intense bullying stage.)

  11. Eve
    Posted January 28, 2010 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    My parents told me “just ignore them and they will stop,” which is crap advice. This doesn’t work unless you actually don’t care, and if that were the case they wouldn’t be bullying you in the first place. Once in high school I got so fed up that I punched a guy in the face, and you know what? He respected me after that and was actually nice to me. I didn’t learn the lesson, though, which is that if you are a pacifist loser who gets picked on, standing up to the bullies can actually help. On the other hand, I suppose it might just get a person hurt. Still, I have fantasies to this day about going back in time, inhabiting my old body, and punching certain people in the face.

    I was bullied for being fat, but I knew it wasn’t because of my fat, because I didn’t get fat until I was about 12, and the bullying started much, much earlier. As a result I was convinced that there was just something wrong with me, inside and outside. I was actually an attractive girl, before and after I got fat, but I never, ever believed that I was anything but ugly. For years I had terrible self-esteem. I finally got over that, though it took longer to start liking my body.

    I still chase that tail sometimes: was it the bullying that made me socially awkward, or was I socially awkward because of the bullying?

    I’m much better now, if anyone’s concerned. I still have a lot of feelings about what happened way back when, but I don’t feel ugly or socially awkward anymore, and I have learned to surround myself with supportive, mature people.

    • Posted January 28, 2010 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

      Once in high school I got so fed up that I punched a guy in the face, and you know what? He respected me after that and was actually nice to me.

      Hahah, same here! But it was in 6th grade. I gave the dude a black eye, and he never messed with me again.

      As a result I was convinced that there was just something wrong with me, inside and outside. I was actually an attractive girl, before and after I got fat, but I never, ever believed that I was anything but ugly. For years I had terrible self-esteem.

      And again, same here. I thought there was *something about me* that invited bullying and harassment. And I always truly believed I was ugly, even when people started telling me I wasn’t.

      • meerkat
        Posted January 29, 2010 at 9:45 am | Permalink

        Huh, I slapped someone’s hand away when they were waving it an inch from my face and got in-school-suspension, and of course the slap-ee got a power trip because she got me in big trouble without getting in trouble herself. I guess I should have hit her harder and more in the face? :)

        • Elizabeth
          Posted March 23, 2010 at 2:13 am | Permalink

          No, hitting harder is not the answer. I kicked a girl in the shin at a dance because she was getting in my face and mocking my dancing and I wanted her out of my space, and I got suspended for three days. :P ‘Course, I was definitely old enough to know better… Anyway, not only did I get suspended, people talked about me for the rest of my high school career (not to my face, though — improvement, maybe?). Oh, and I had to put it on my college applications.

          • Posted March 23, 2010 at 7:28 am | Permalink

            I had a couple of “incidents” as well, but I was lucky enough not to be suspended or have it go on my record!

            In grade 6, I gave a kid a black eye (totally in self-defense…he was chasing me, very angrily, because I’d splashed some water on him as a joke, and when he caught up with me, he grabbed me by the hair and was about to do…something…I didn’t want to find out what. So I belted him and got away.) It was outside of school, though; otherwise I probably would have been suspended.

            In grade 2 or 3, I tweaked a girl’s nose HARD for cheating at hopscotch and then gloating when she won. The playground aide scolded me and I ran off crying.

            THUS, MY HISTORY OF VIOLENCE.

  12. Ross Kennedy, Dietetic Intern
    Posted January 30, 2010 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    I grew up with harassment. If it wasn’t taunting for being less butch (gay), it was having no athletic talents, a nasily voice, actually expressing myself as intelligent, or my clothes. It wasn’t until I had been in college for a few years before I finally started to speak up in class. I can remember comments and mocking anytime I’d open my mouth in middle and high schools. I wasn’t really a fat kid, although i was chubby, and I think the girls got more taunting than the boys anyway for being overweight.

    Some of those who treated me so badly in school have since sincerely apologized. It’s good that some people grow up. Some apologized sooner than others. I have an entry in a yearbook from one who got to know me because we had mutual friends and spent lunches together during a semester.

    Adults are the key here. So many are so delusional that they believe kids don’t act in this way. Parents need to be more proactive about it. I got teased and I teased as well because I thought that if I did it, I could be accepted. I got in trouble for it by my mom. Some teachers just looked the other way when I got picked on while others actually said something. THe kids need to know that this behavior is unacceptable.

    • Posted January 30, 2010 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

      My big thing that I got teased for was that I was, according to the other kids, “Weird.” I never really put my finger on what that meant, but I heard it so many times from so many different people that I started to believe it.

      Maybe being weird as a kid is the same thing that makes me ridiculously awesome as an adult — I’m imaginative and silly and intellectual and emotional, all at the same time. And compassionate as all get-out. And I’m sick of denying those things about myself, or being ashamed of them, or affecting a false humility about them.

      Apparently that makes me weird. Good.

  13. Posted January 30, 2010 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    The numbers thing definitely doesn’t hurt, but I also want to point out that I went to a tiny hippy-dippy private school up to fourth grade and I was bullied ridiculously–not often physically, but emotionally: excluded and pranked and laughed at. Which, of course, fed into and worsened the anxiety disorder that had already been developing. Which wasn’t caught until age 20 (despite having seen a psychiatrist since age 14 for depression). Which is why I’m hella depressed again, right now.

    As others have said, I think it’s more about the attitude that teachers and parents take toward bullying, which is often not seriously enough. Anytime anything got physical they’d be all over it, but with anything verbal, it was, as Eve said, “Ignore them and they’ll stop” or the choice piece of more explicit victim-blaming my parents loved to fall back on, “You have to make yourself less of an easy target.”

    • Posted January 30, 2010 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

      I think it’s more about the attitude that teachers and parents take toward bullying, which is often not seriously enough.

      Agreed.

  14. Elizabeth
    Posted March 23, 2010 at 1:16 am | Permalink

    “You need to tell the child that this isn’t happening because there’s something wrong with him.”

    Yes.

    Yes, yes, yes.

    I was bullied in middle school (not because of weight, but for other reasons), and there were two things that hurt above all else:

    1: that none of my peers ever said or did anything, thus reinforcing the impression that the entire world was against me, rather than just a small, vocal subset; and
    2: that even my teachers, guidance counselor, therapist, and *family* thought I should try harder to “blend in” and avoid the bullying that way, this reinforcing the impression that the entire world was against me, rather than just a small, vocal subset.

    I am 20 years old and still suffering some of the effects of this bullying, including a fear of approaching people to make friends because I’m afraid they’ll… well, be mean to me. Despite overwhelming evidence that when people get to know me, they tend to really, really like me, I just can’t get past this fear that they are going to end up hating me for one reason or another. And honestly? I think it’s because I spent my tweenage years with almost my entire world against me. The default assumption in the back of my mind is that most people are not going to like me. No matter what, parents/family ALWAYS need to be on their child’s side in these types of situations and never, EVER suggest that the child needs to change to appease his/her attackers. That sends all sorts of nasty messages that will follow a person around for years.

    I’ve known about this site for less than 48 hours and already you’re starting to change the tapes in my head — not just on the subject of weight, but on other topics as well. Thanks for posting all this awesome stuff. :)

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