Unfortunately, parents, as much as they try, can’t shield their kids from all troubles, including being bullied by their peers.
According to the National Center for Education Studies (NCES)’s 2013 report, 21.5% of children reported that they were bullied during the school year, a drop from 27.8% in 2011. But, while bullying percentages seem to have decreased, that doesn’t mean the effects it can have on a child are any less intense.
“Teens that experience bullying have increased rates of depression and anxiety, and are twice as likely to experience psychosomatic symptoms including headaches, stomachaches, dizziness, bedwetting, and sleep disturbances,” explained clinical psychologist Dr. Michelle Golland via email. “This cluster of mental effects can create a serious downward spiral which can lead to suicidal ideation.”
There are many things that need to be done to help stop this widespread issue of bullying. But, exercise may be a part of the solution when it comes to helping a child bounce back. A recent study published in Child & Adult Psychology found that when bullied adolescents exercised four or more days per week, they experienced significant reductions in their negative feelings and thoughts and a 23% reduction in suicidal thoughts and attempts.
The study surveyed 13,583 adolescents across the United States between grades 9-12 who anonymously answered questions about their behavioral and exercise activities. The researchers found that among that group, the bullied students who exercised six to seven days per week reported a lower percentage of feeling sad or hopeless, having suicidal ideation or attempting suicide, as compared to bullied students who exercised zero or one day a week.
Why might this be? “Regular physical activity can increase endorphins and dopamine, which is a natural anti-depressant that can lift mood, improve self-esteem, and decrease anxiety,” Dr. Golland explains. “For children involved in a sport or a group that does regular physical activity, it also can provide a positive and healthy social environment that differs from their bullying experience while at school.”
In addition to regular exercise, there are a number of resources parents can use if they are worried about their child being bullied. “The most critical organization that parents, teens and schools can get involved with is The BULLY Project,” says Dr. Golland. “This is the latest intervention and education organization around the issues of bullying.”