A new study published recently in the Lancet Psychiatry journal, highlights the effects of bullying and concludes that peer bullying has a more detrimental long term effect on children than maltreatment by adults.
The extraordinary new findings by the University of Warwick (UK) show that children who have been bullied are twice as likely to feel depressed and/or self harm and five times more likely to experience anxiety- than those who have been maltreated by adults.
Talking to the Guardian, Professor Dieter Wolke, from the University of Warwick who lead the study said, "maltreatment – by which they mean 'any physical or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect, or negligent treatment resulting in actual or potential harm to the child’s health, survival, development or dignity' – has been the main focus of concern with regard to children’s later mental health until now."
He went on to say, "governments have focused their efforts and resources on family maltreatment rather than bullying. Since one in three children worldwide report being bullied, and it is clear that bullied children have similar or worse mental health problems later in life to those who are maltreated, more needs to be done to address this imbalance. Moreover, it is vital that schools, health services and other agencies work together to tackle bullying.”
While the study asked children both in the US and the UK about any experiences they had of peer bullying, and interviewed mothers on any maltreatment issues including: physical, emotional and sexual abuse, it did not address the reasons why bullying caused mental health issues.
In a commentary published along side the study, David Finkelhor and Corinna Jenkins Tucker from the University of New Hampshire voiced their concern regarding the current support available in the US and UK for all victims of abuse.
They note, “separate institutions, researchers and advocacy groups lobby and often compete on behalf of victims of child molestation, rape, exposure to domestic violence, corporal punishment, physical abuse and bullying. Attention is also hampered by the description of abusive behaviours such as peer violence (including that among siblings) as being part of a ‘normal childhood’ and by viewing efforts to address such abuse as a sign of overwrought protectionism.”
Finkelhor and Jenkins Tucker believe the study is, “a call to the fragmented child protection lobbies to join forces”, adding: “This new study illustrates the growing consensus that children are entitled to grow up free from violence, denigration and non-consented sexual activity at the hands of both adults and young peers.”
Authors of the study are now urging policy makers to take bullying more seriously. Dr Jennifer Wild, Associate Professor of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford, said, “the findings are important because they highlight the devastating consequences of bullying and the need for zero-tolerance programmes."
Back in June 2014 the KHDA added their own zero-tolerance policy to their successful parent/school contracts.
A KHDA spokesperson told the press at the time of introduction,“we support our schools with information sessions to ensure they understand each component of the parent-school contract. Our priority is students’ well-being and happiness, and we will never accept anything but zero-tolerance to bullying.”
The contract system began in 2013 and today extends to over 58 schools in the Emirate and over 120,000 pupils. Parents who fail to complete the contract risk their children being denied entry to participating schools.
The contract covers both online and other forms of bullying, and states that, “the school has a zero-tolerance policy for bullying in all its forms. Instances of proven and intentional bullying will result in immediate expulsion of the aggressor from the school. The matter will be referred to KHDA for ratification.”
If a dispute arises, the contract lists a six-step process that parents must follow before they can take the issue up with the KHDA.
The new research will offer little comfort to parents in Abu Dhabi though, where only five months ago ADEC announced they estimated around 60 percent of boys in the capital had experienced bullying. A higher rate than both the US (50 percent) and China (21 percent).
Founder of ‘Beat the CyberBully’ UAE, Barry Lee Cummings told 7Days back in November 2014, that he wasn't surprised by the high incidences of bullying in Abu Dhabi.
He told the paper, “both offline and online bullying is on the rise. “A main reason is kids don’t understand what bullying or cyber-bullying is. For example, they might think it’s just name calling on Facebook, but that’s bullying.”
He went on to note that bullying is also a cultural concern,“in some cultures, parents might think of it as part of growing up, especially for boys. They might see it as something that will make their boy a stronger man. We need to raise awareness as a society,” he said.