Karabo Mokoena
Content producer
3 minute read
7 Jul 2021
12:36 pm

The effects of bullying on children, from a paediatrician

Karabo Mokoena

For children who are subjected to bullying, the psychological effects can be long term.

Be very aware of sudden changes in your child's behaviour. Picture: iStock

The effects of bullying on children are not spoken about widely enough.

Bullying videos have become a norm in South Africa. In April 2021, 15-year-old Lufuno Mavhungu overdosed on pills and sadly passed away after a video was taken of her being bullied by a school mate. This is nothing new in schools, but merely videos exposing the everyday lives of some pupils.

It is a sad reality that some children have to face bullying every day in their schools, playgrounds and, for some, even in their homes.

Dr Iqbal Karbanee, paediatrician and CEO of Paed-IQ BabyLine, shares some insight about how bullying affects children’s mental development and health.

How bullying affects children

The effects of bullying on children include anxiety, depression, changes in behaviour as well as physical symptoms. These symptoms range from changes in appetite, sleep disturbances, bedwetting and acting out or aggression at home.

The long-term psychological effects of bullying

When a child experiences bullying, the long-term effects are those of lowered self-esteem, poor self-image, difficulty with relationships, anxiety and depression

Types of bullying

Bullying can take many forms. These include verbal insults and negative banter, emotional mind games, physical abuse over the full spectrum from injuries to assault, and then the type of bullying that more and more people are recognising: cyber bullying. This can occur on all types of electronic communication and social media platforms.  

ALSO SEE: One in four South African kids has been a victim of bullying

Why is bullying so rife today?

It is not clear if bullying has become more rife, or simply now better recognised. Bullying has also evolved to include social media and cyber bullying. This increases the risk for young people who may not be equipped to recognise bullying or its associated early warning signs.

Signs parents should look out for

Any change in behaviour from the child’s normal baseline should be recognised by the caregiver and looked at carefully. A child who is acting out may not be just being naughty but may be trying to communicate that something is wrong. If a child starts eating differently, either eating more than usual or less than usual. Sleeping patterns that change, bed wetting, reluctance to go to school and abnormal social interactions are all signs there may be something amiss.

The importance of keeping an open line of communication with your children

The importance of good, open communication cannot be over emphasised. This is not a short-term goal but should be age appropriate and set in place from as early on in the child’s life as possible. Spending quality time with your child and making sure the caregiver is always available is very important.

Steps parents can take to support their children

Setting up good rituals and habits at home is a key aspect for the foundation of good communication. Parents must lead by example, as children will learn what they see and not necessarily what they are told. A parent should limit their own time on social media in front of the children and focus on healthy conversation instead. Eating together is another great way of establishing good family bonds.   

What should parents do if they find out their child has been a victim of bullying?

If parents suspect that their child is being bullied, they should approach the school to bring it to their attention. Often the bully requires help and the aim should be to stop the cycle and ensure all children are in a healthy and safe environment at school.