Inside the Bullied Brain
Science now shows how abused children develop differently and grow up with issues and problems that reach far into adulthood and affect all of society. Did you know that children who experience child abuse and neglect are 59% more likely to be arrested as a juvenile, 28% more likely to be arrested as an adult, and 30% more likely to commit violent crime? Stopping abuse, especially the abuse of our children, will help stunt the growth of many of our worse and costly ills.
The information and technology we have available to us now, will be a key factor in helping to stop abuse. New studies out every day show the how abuse alters the brain’s make-up and chemistry, especially in children. In December we posted a study in the journal Current Biology, where researchers used brain scans to explore the impact of physical abuse or domestic violence on children’s emotional developmentChildren exposed to family violence show the same pattern of activity in their brains as soldiers exposed to combat. Read it here: http://stopabusecampaign.com/feature/child-abuse-changes-the-brain
Another in April about a study out by Duke University that shows how abused children age faster than those who are not. This doesn’t mean abused children grow up faster, this study means that aging is occurring, physically and more rapidly, at a cellular level in abused children. Read the story: http://stopabusecampaign.com/feature/bullyingchild-abuse-hasten-aging-in-kids
Now a new study goes inside the bulled brain to explore the damage no one can see from the outside. It’s the damage that lasts a lifetime. A new wave of research into bullying’s effects, is now suggesting that in fact, bullying can leave an indelible imprint on a teen’s brain at a time when it is still growing and developing. Being ostracized by one’s peers, it seems, can throw adolescent hormones even further out of whack, lead to reduced connectivity in the brain, and even sabotage the growth of new neurons.
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Inside the bullied brain
The alarming neuroscience of taunting
In the wake of several tragedies that have made bullying a high-profile issue, it’s becoming clear that harassment by one’s peers is something more than just a rite of passage. Bullied kids are more likely to be depressed, anxious, and suicidal. They struggle in school — when they decide to show up at all. They are more likely to carry weapons, get in fights, and use drugs.
But when it comes to the actual harm bullying does, the picture grows murkier. The psychological torment that victims feel is real. But perhaps because many of us have experienced this sort of schoolyard cruelty and lived to tell the tale, peer harassment is still commonly written off as a “soft” form of abuse — one that leaves no obvious injuries and that most victims simply get over. It’s easy to imagine that, painful as bullying can be, all it hurts is our feelings.
A new wave of research into bullying’s effects, however, is now suggesting something more than that — that in fact, bullying can leave an indelible imprint on a teen’s brain at a time when it is still growing and developing. Being ostracized by one’s peers, it seems, can throw adolescent hormones even further out of whack, lead to reduced connectivity in the brain, and even sabotage the growth of new neurons.
These neurological scars, it turns out, closely resemble those borne by children who are physically and sexually abused in early childhood. Neuroscientists now know that the human brain continues to grow and change long after the first few years of life. By revealing the internal physiological damage that bullying can do, researchers are recasting it not as merely an unfortunate rite of passage but as a serious form of childhood trauma.
This change in perspective could have all sorts of ripple effects for parents, kids, and schools; it offers a new way to think about the pain suffered by ostracized kids, and could spur new antibullying policies. It offers the prospect that peer harassment, much like abuse and other traumatic experiences, may increasingly be seen as a medical problem — one that can be measured with brain scans, and which may yield to new kinds of clinical treatment.