By Jazelle Hunt
WASHINGTON–Blacks, who are already more likely than other racial groups to be involved in situations that involve bullying, both as a victim and as a perpetrator, are subjected to additional bullying because of other complicating factors, including poverty, according to scholars and experts on the subject.
“African Americans have higher rates of bullying. When I looked at the factors, they were all overlapping with health and social disparity,” said Maha Mohammad Albdour, who is examining bullying as part of her doctoral studies in Community Health Nursing at Wayne State University. Her research findings were published this month in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing.
“There is a lot of interest in bullying, but…. [t]his population has a lot going on related to social and health disparities, so maybe the experience is different from other populations,” Albdour said.
According to her research, Black children are more likely to be involved in bullying (as aggressor, victim, or bystander) than other groups. Additionally, Stopbullying.gov, a federal resource, found that Black and Hispanic children who are bullied are more likely to do poorly in school than their white counterparts.
They are also more likely to possess characteristics that make them a target for bullying. According to some studies, children who are perceived as “different” – through sexuality or gender identity, lower socio-economic status than their peers, or pronounced weight differences (over or under), are more likely to be bullied.
As of 2010, 51 percent of Black children ages two to 19 had been told by a doctor that they were overweight, according to the Office of Minority Health. But such factors and the effects they bring can be mitigated by a trusted adult’s presence.
“For African-American children, family was a strong predicting factor,” Albdour said. “[Family] can even act as a buffer for community violence. If there is communication, cohesion, and the parents are involved in the child’s school life, it has a huge preventative effect.”
Albdour’s research mirrors a newly released report, “Peer Victimization in Fifth Grade and Health in Tenth Grade.”
The report, which appears in the March issue of Pediatrics, tracked more than 4,000 students’ experiences over time, surveying them in fifth grade (when the prevalence of bullying peaks), in seventh grade, and in 10th grade.
While the study did nog specifically examine race, the researchers found that kids who are bullied, especially for prolonged periods, are more likely to experience poor mental and physical health in adolescence and beyond.
As fifth-graders, almost a third of students questioned who reported being victims of bullying exhibited poor psychological health, compared to the 4.3 percent who were not bullied.
By seventh grade, those who reported being bullied in the past were better off—the percentage of students exhibiting signs of a poor quality of life as fifth-graders was cut in half if the bullying had stopped by seventh grade.
However, the rate of emotional trouble was highest among 10th-graders who reported being bullied both in t he past and present, with nearly 45 percent showing signs of serious distress. This group of chronically bullied 10th-graders had the highest rates of low self-worth, depression, and poor quality of life (and the second-highest rates of poor physical health, after those who were being bullied in the present only).
“Any victimization is bad, but it has stronger effects depending on whether it continues or not,” said Laura Bogart, the author of the study. “If the bullying experience happens in fifth grade, you can still see effects in 10th grade.”
Those effects manifest in myriad detrimental ways for children involved in bullying—but the repercussions differ depending on how the child is involved.
Stopbullying.gov says that kids who bully others are more likely to be violent, vandalize property, drop out of school, and have sex early. As adults, they are more likely to have criminal convictions and traffic citations, and abuse romantic partners. Warning signs include aggression, difficulty accepting responsibility for one’s own actions, and a competitive spirit that is concerned with reputation or popularity.
The site advises that kids who are bullied “are more likely to experience depression and anxiety, increased feelings of sadness and loneliness, changes in sleep and eating patterns, and loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy.”
“There are subtle signs,” Bogart says. “If a child doesn’t want to go to school all of a sudden, or if they’re in their room a lot. If they’re sad or angry, or if they’re not talking about other kids and friends from school [for example].”
The kids who experience the most far-reaching consequences are bully-victims—kids who are victims in one area of their lives, and victimize others in another.
“Bully-victims are the most afflicted. They have more substance abuse, more social problems…and this is true across ethnicities,” Albdour explains. “You can expect bully-victims to internalize problems, then act out. It results in them being an aggressive person as an adult.”
Parents can play a vital role.
“One argument is that there should be immediate and early intervention, and parents should be aware of what’s going on in their child’s life through good communication with their child,” Bogart said.
In the case of Black children, anti-discrimination/civil rights laws can be applied if harassment is race-based. As StopBullying.gov explains, “There is no federal law that specifically applies to bullying. In some cases, when bullying is based on race, color, national origin, sex, disability, or religion, bullying overlaps with harassment and schools are legally obligated to address it.”
States seem to be showing more sensitivity in addressing bullying.
“In almost every state there is a law that schools have to have anti-bullying policy, and it usually involves parents,” Bogart said. “Now, there’s a lot less talk of ‘kids just do that’ or ‘boys will be boys.’ We are evolving as a nation.”