It’s no surprise that vulnerable kids are ripe for bullying. Two recent studies found that children who suffer from food allergies and those involved in weight-loss programs reported being bullied by their peers. But it might surprise that those who are victimized because of their weight are sometimes bullied by their parents.
In one study, nearly one-third of children with food allergies reported bullying or harassment specifically related to their allergy, often involving threats with food. In the weight study, nearly two-thirds of teens at weight-loss camps reported weight-related victimization.
Bullying can cause great harm. See our post about the connection between bullying and suicide. Less dire consequences include social isolation, poor academic performance, depression, anxiety and chronic health problems.
As described on MedPageToday.com, surveys of 251 food allergy patients ages 8 to 17 and their parents were analyzed at a single allergy clinic.
Forty-five in 100 of the kids and 36 in 100 of their parents reported bullying or harassment. Eight in 10 bullies were classmates, and 6 in 10 bullying incidents happened at school. Verbal teasing was common, as was waving the allergen in front of the child; 12 in 100 kids had been forced to touch the food to which they were allergic.
Most of the bullied kids said they had reported the bullying, but parents knew in only about half the cases. When the parents did know, the situation improved for the kids.
The weight study included 361 kids ages 14 to 18 surveyed online while they attended two national weight-loss camps. One-third of the respondents were in the normal weight range; nearly one-quarter were overweight and 4 in 10 were obese. The first group represents many kids who previously had lost significant amounts of weight and had returned to the program for maintenance.
The more the kids weighed, the better their chances at being bullied, although many of the normal weight groups remained at risk.
Bullying came in the form of teasing, relational victimization (behavior aimed at damaging relationships or one's social reputation), cyberbullying and physical aggression. The most common bullies were:
- peers (9 in 10)
- friends (7 in 10)
- physical education teachers or sport coaches (4 in 10)
- parents (nearly 4 in 10)
- teachers (1 in 4)
The researchers said that some of the adults might have been well-meaning, but made clear that any bullying can be extremely damaging. As MedPageToday summarized, bullying has immediate and long-term effects, both physical and emotional.
The researchers concluded that pediatricians and other caregivers should become front-line interveners when a patient presents with symptoms or stories of bullying. That means helping kids and their parents anticipate and handle incidents, and teaching parents how to recognize bullying clues.
Even if your kid isn’t talking, sometimes you can recognize if he or she has been bullied. Physical clues include unexplained bruises, cuts and scratches; behavioral clues are avoiding school and social events, substance abuse, anxiety and depression. In addition, kids might have chronic headaches or stomach aches.
Simply realizing that if your child suffers from food allergies or excessive weight, he or she is particularly at risk; you can help him or her be prepared for what might occur.
If the bullying occurs at school and at home, the researchers said that "healthcare providers may be among their only remaining allies."