A variety of symptoms that can seem vague or mysterious may
signal that a child is being bullied and having trouble coping, according to a
new analysis of research on the topic.
In the review of studies from 15 countries, complaints of
headache, backache, abdominal pain, skin problems, sleeping problems,
bed-wetting or dizziness were more than twice as common among kids who were
victims of bullying, researchers found.
The results are in line with previous studies, and suggest
that paediatricians and parents should be on the lookout for signs that a child
is being victimised, the authors write in the journal Pediatrics. Symptoms were
sometimes long-lasting, and often went along with low self-esteem.
It's important to recognise that the link remained over
time, since that "speaks to the long term consequences of bullying,"
said Gianluca Gini, of the Developmental and Social Psychology department at
the University of Padua in Italy, who led the study.
"The most serious consequence of bullying is suicide,
but these health problems can negatively impact the quality of life of many
children for several years," Gini told Reuters Health. Gini and a co-author
reviewed data from 30 studies that examined links between being bullied and
psychosomatic problems in children and adolescents, and compared those children
to peers who were not bullied.
The included studies measured victimisation among kids and
teens as reported by the children themselves, parents or teachers. Overall,
bullied children were between 2.17 and 2.39 times more likely to report pains
and other physical symptoms, as well as nervousness, sleeplessness, feeling
tired and poor appetite.
The more boys relative to girls in a study, the stronger the
connection between bullying and physical symptoms seemed to be. "A possible
explanation might deal with the fact that a school or classroom environment
with a higher proportion of male students is a context in which bullying
behaviour is more likely to happen, and where supportive and helping behaviours
in favour of the bullied pupils are less frequent," Gini said.
"This is not surprising at all, but it is a very well
done study," said Dr Stephen Leff, co-director of the Violence Prevention
Initiative at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
The difference between boys and girls could also be
explained by gender differences in aggression and victimisation, Leff told
"These studies may have defined bullying in a more
physical way, instead of a social way," he said. Researchers once thought that
boys were more aggressive than girls, but have recently found that aggression
among girls manifests more as gossiping and "leaving-out" than
physical violence, he said. "In any case, it's interesting, and deserves
more study," he said.
Of course, not every child who is bullied will develop these
symptoms, and not every child with these symptoms has necessarily been bullied,
Gini said. He and Leff agreed it is also possible that kids with more physical
ailments are more likely to be bullied, which might at least partly explain the
connection. Nevertheless, keeping an eye out for physical troubles could be a
useful tool for adults for spotting kids at risk for bullying, Leff said.
"This really speaks to taking warning signs
seriously," he said. "Kids may not be communicating with adults or
even other kids about their bullying problems, and physical things like this
can be important warning signs we don't want to miss."