Positive Touch: An Approach to Stop Bullying


Positive Touch: An Approach to Stop Bullying


Bullying has become an epidemic, not only has it caught the nation's attention, but it's continually part of our mainstream media coverage. Bullying happens more frequently than you might realize; in the U.S. alone, it's estimated that between 15% to 25% of students are frequently bullied.

Not only does research indicate that the amount of children being bullied has increased, but the type of bullying has changed as well. This shift in the way kids bully is partially due to children's exposure to increasingly graphic or aggressive media images which can cause desensitization to violence. Coupling this desensitization to violence with society's acceptance to criticize others, and our children are at great risk. When this type of insensitive behavior relates to children, it's commonly identified as bullying.

Bullying Defined

Bullying is any unwanted or aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. According to the website, www.StopBullying.gov, the behavior is repeated or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Both kids who are bullied and who bully others may have serious, lasting problems.

In order to be considered bullying, the behavior must be aggressive and include:

  • An Imbalance of Power: Kids who bully use their power — such as physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or popularity — to control or harm others. Power imbalances can change over time and in different situations, even if they involve the same people.
  • Repetition: Bullying behaviors happen more than once or have the potential to happen more than once. There are different types of bullying, including physical bullying which includes hitting, kicking, pushing or the taking of something that belongs to someone else; verbal bullying which includes name calling, teasing and verbal threats; psychological bullying includes gossiping about someone or intentionally ignoring, excluding or isolating them; and cyber bullying which includes using technology, mobile phones and the Internet to send cruel texts messages or emails, post inappropriate or upsetting pictures or videos and social network harassment.

The Effects of Bullying

Victims of bullying can have many serious and lasting negative impacts. Numerous studies have demonstrated that children who have been bullied may be more withdrawn, depressed, anxious, insecure, shy, lonely, isolated and avoidant of social activities. Often times, they experience a host of health complaints including changes in eating patterns and sleep.

Short Term Effects

Children who are bullied are likely to skip school and may suffer academically. Bullied kids are often scared of facing those who bully them and would rather face the consequences of missing school. It's estimated that every day, more than 160,000 children miss school because of fears or acts of bullying. One recent CDC study states that 81% of students admitted to bullying their classmates, while 75% of adolescents nationally admitted that they had been bullied during their teen years.

Not only do children skip school due to being bullied, but they often report feeling sick more often than their peers. Studies have also found that the more frequently a child is picked on, the more severe common symptoms may become. The stress and anxiety a child may experience causes the body to produce or secrete more cortisol. Cortisol impairs immune system functioning, which leaves the children more vulnerable to illness. A common cough, sore throat, headache or stomachache can increase frequency and duration when a child's bully continues their taunting.

Long Term Effects

As we become more aware, it is beginning to make more sense that for some children, that saying, "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me," is not true. The effects of bullying vary from child to child depending on the severity of the bullying, length of time being bullying, individual coping mechanisms and a child's support systems. Bullying incidents that are not adequately addressed can continue to affect a child long after the act or occurrence of bullying. Psychology professor, Dr. Dan Olweus, found that kids who were bullied during the late elementary and junior high schools years (grades 6 –9), were more likely to experience low self esteem and depression by the time they were 23 years of age.

Why Do Children Bully?

There is no one single cause of bullying among children; individual, family, peer, school and community factors can place a child or youth at risk for bullying. Studies demonstrate that often bullies are aggressive children. They may have experiences at home that would be considered troubling, or for some reason feel that picking on someone else makes them feel better about their own circumstances. Commonly, bullies may look just fine, but internally they harm themselves and have difficulties with eating and sleeping.

A Time magazine article reported that while some bullies have higher self esteem they, "tend to be victims of physical damage as well." Many bullies live with parents who discipline them "inconsistently or through physical means."

There are also people who will applaud and award those children who bully others. This reward can come in the form of acceptance from their peers or being cheered on as they call another child names or mistreat them. They are often considered one of the "cool kids" by their peers which makes the reward of being the bully outweigh the feelings they may have about themselves or the compassion they could feel towards another. Not all bullies, however, are considered to be "cool kids," some are troubled children who may have also been the victim of bullying themselves.

Lack of Touch

Positive human touch is not only the kind of sensory children crave most, but it is vital for their healthy growth and development. Through observations and research, it has been demonstrated that children who are touch-deprived don't growth emotionally, physically and cognitively. When children are deprived of nurturing touch, they become numb to the fundamental need to touch and be touched. They become touch-phobic and can keep an emotional distance from others. This is not only harmful during childhood, but the effects carry with them throughout their lives.

The health impacts of touch deprivation are vast and include increased stress and body tension both behaviorally and biochemically, as well as an increase in aggression behavior and physical violence. The stress caused by touch deprivation might eventually change an individual's brain chemistry so as to cause depression. We may also see a noticeable drop in the level of serotonin which correlates to a strong relationship to touch deprivation and sleep disturbance.

Positive Effects of Touch

Children, parents and their caregivers are searching for solutions that make children feel safe, less vulnerable and create more compassion among peers. Knowing that each person's experience with touch can be influenced by their environment, including the way their family or culture views touch, the beliefs they have developed over time and their experience with their peers, it's imperative that all children receive a healthy dose of nurturing and positive touch throughout their lives.

The types of touch each child receives can have direct effect on the architecture of their brain. During the first five to seven years of life, it is extremely critical that we provide nurturing touch, as this is the optimal time for brain development. It's during this period of time that children are extremely responsive to sensory stimulation. Massage therapy research has suggested that touch therapies can have a direct effect on lowering cortisol levels, increasing serotonin, and thus lowering violent and aggressive behavior. Not only does nurturing touch benefit the child who has been bullied through effective, compassionate support, the child who bullies will benefit as well.

When providing pediatric massage, it is always to be given with permission to empower a child, and massage is never to be given as a reward or withheld as punishment. This nurturing and positive touch is good for all children, so the next time they have had a bad day at school it might be better to hug than punish.


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