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New research shows bullying changes brain structure, increasing mental health problems.
It’s thought that as many as 30% of young people are cyber bullied daily in the United States. Let that soak in for a minute. Do you know if your child or a friend of your child is being bullied, or has been bullied by someone?
There are lots of ideas and ways of battling cyber bullying. But the reality is that this type of bullying is way too easy. You can anonymously bully someone from anywhere in the world, at any time of the day or night. The ability to bully 24/7 makes cyber bullying one of the greatest threats to young minds.
A new report in the journal Molecular Psychiatry links cyber bullying to changes in brain structure. When a child experiences severe bullying, the two parts of the brain involved in learning and motivation get smaller. Lower volume (size) in the caudate and the putamen means increased anxiety and depression. The study shows that by the age of 19, the victim of severe bullying has high levels of anxiety, low to poor motivation in school and life goals, and has trouble with memory and learning new things.
What is the caudate?
The caudate is located deep in the brain. It’s important in helping the brain learn by storing and processing memories. When a child burns his hand on a stove top, the caudate stores that memory. It stores what happened, plus any emotions associated with burning the hand. When the child again wants to touch a hot stove, the caudate goes into memory search mode. It quickly brings up the memory and gives any useful information about the situation, such as don’t touch because your hand will get burned.
What is the putamen?
The putamen is a separate structure that’s joined to the front of the caudate. The main job of the putamen is regulating movement and influencing different types of learning. What’s important here is that putamen uses dopamine.
Dopamine is an important neurotransmitter. Dopamine carries information between the body and the brain. It helps the body get motivated by learning what to do to get rewarded. Basically, dopamine is a reward, motivation, attention sensor.
Constant bullying puts a child at risk.
Bullying literally changes the brain structure of a child. That’s a serious health issue.
Children and young adults who are constantly bullied are at a greater risk of mental health problems. These mental health problems can be anything from anxiety disorders (panic attacks, phobias, OCD, PTSD) to depression. They are often not able to complete regular everyday tasks, such as getting to work on time or cooking a meal. They have persistent thoughts or memories that keep reappearing no matter the situation. There’s a tendency to self harm (drugs, alcohol, sharp instruments).
Walk away, Ignore it, Talk it out, Seek help.
There are a couple of ways to deal with bullying. In Canada, one of the more effective systems is being taught from kindergarten to grade three. The WITS program (Walk Away, Ignore It, Talk It Out, Seek Help) is designed to prevent bullying and help children to form positive relationships. It brings together community role models, parents, and teachers to create environments that respond effectively to bullying. The program has effectively branched out to rural communities because cyber bullying isn’t limited to cities.
Bullying should never be part of someone’s childhood.
Parents have to watch out for signs that their child is being bullied. Kids can be secretive, but there comes a point where it’s not good to be secretive. Talk about bullying. Your child may be afraid to say anything until you do. Be your child’s hero. Connect with teachers to keep in loop with what’s going on at school. Do your part. Don’t bully others, or put them down in a so called ‘funny way.’ All you are doing is teaching your child that bullying is okay, when it’s not.
If you need to talk to someone, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
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