The findings of two important studies related to bullying were reported in the last week. The findings of these new bullying studies are alarming. The first is about factors contributing to bullying and other aggressive behavior in children. The second is about the effects of bullying.
Study #1: Flame Retardants Linked to Child Aggression, Bullying
Manufacturers began adding various types of flame retardant to vehicles and to many household products in 1975. There can be no doubt that these flame retardants have saved many lives. Flame retardants have been used in “furniture, foam items (like cushions), plastic, textiles, foam products such as nursing pillows, car seats, crib mattresses, baby carriers, strollers and changing pads.” [https://ens-newswire.com/2017/03/12/flame-retardants-linked-to-child-aggression-bullying.] Some of these products contain flame retardants that are not “bound in the materials,” which can allow them to be released into the air inside a home or school.
Previous studies have linked some flame retardants to lower IQ, cancer and reproductive problems. This study by Oregon State University is the first to demonstrate a link between high exposure to flame retardants and such “externalizing behaviors” as defiance, aggression, hyperactivity, inattention, and bullying. You can learn more in this article, or in the study that was published in the journal “Environmental Health.”
The authors of the study have indicated that additional study is necessary to support this preliminary study. Until these studies can be conducted, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has the following recommendations for parents:
- Parents and children should wash hands frequently, especially before eating.
- Parents should dust frequently with a moist cloth.
- Wet mop or vacuum with a HEPA filter attachment often.
- Do not allow small children to chew or any products that might contain fire retardants.
- Repair tears in upholstered furniture.
- Wipe and vacuum vehicle interiors (seats and dashboards often contain fire retardants).
Study #2: Childhood Bullying Can Lead to Chronic Disease
In a study conducted by scientists at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, results indicate that the stress a child is experiences as a result of bullying during childhood may increase the risk for some chronic diseases in adulthood. These diseases include heart disease and diabetes. This study builds upon recent studies of the negative effects of “chronic stress.” This study was published in the Harvard Review of Psychiatry.
The Uniform Definition of Bullying established by national experts convened by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and U.S. Department of Education in 2014 is: “Bullying is any unwanted aggressive behavior(s) by another youth or group of youths who are not siblings or current dating partners that involves an observed or perceived power imbalance and is repeated multiple times or is highly likely to be repeated.
The authors of the study point out that “studies of other types of chronic stress exposure raise concerns that bullying – “a classic form of chronic social stress” – could have lasting effects on physical health.” This is explained: “Any form of continued physical or mental stress can put a strain on the body, leading to increasing ‘wear and tear.’ This process, called allostatic load, reflects the cumulative impact of biological responses to ongoing or repeated stress. . .” The body can recover from brief periods of stress. With chronic stress, “the allostatic load can build to a point of overload. In such states of allostatic overload, physiological processes critical to health and well-being can be negatively impacted.” What is more, stress exposure early in life can also negatively affect the psychological skills that create resilience. When this happens, it negatively affects the child’s ability to cope with future stress.
Although the authors of this study do not claim to have demonstrated a cause-and-effect relationship yet this study points the way for future study. The authors believe this study shows a need to address “bullying victimization” as a standard part of medical care for children. If your child is being bullied, or you think your child is being bullied, it is important to obtain appropriate psychological and medical attention in order to foster more normative development. A more detailed explanation is available here. (https://psychcentral.com/news/2017/03/13/childhood-bullying-can-lead-to-chronic-disease/117597.html )
For those who wish to discount the effects of bullying as “just part of growing up,” these studies are an important “wake-up call.” In the last few years the number of bullying cases reported has declined. We have no way to predict the future. Wherever bullying occurs, appropriate attention must be given by parents, schools, and physicians.