A research team from Boston Children’s Hospital have recently published a paper on a link between childhood adversity and increased body mass index (BMI) in adolescence.
The project looked at 147 teenagers, 60 of whom had experienced some kind of adversity in childhood.
The results were interesting: a history of sexual or emotional abuse, or of bullying by other children, did not correlate with any increase or decrease in BMI. However, those who had experienced physical abuse or who had seen domestic violence happen in the home had higher BMIs than their peers.
In participants who were witnesses of domestic violence, the likelihood of being overweight as an adolescent was almost six times the average, even after adjusting for potential confounders. There were no significant gender differences – the correlations seemed to be equally prevalent in all genders.
A few months ago, I spoke to Carole Williams, an expert in cyberbullying who speaks at schools and runs training sessions for parents about what to do if their child is being bullied online, and measures they can take to stop it from happening.
But what is cyberbullying? It’s a word that gets thrown around a lot, often without explanation of what it means, and what the effects are on its victims.
A group of researchers at Stanford University have recently been looking into this, and their results bring back some good recommendations for its prevention.
The idea was that the researchers would conduct an interdisciplinary study. I’m an advocate of multidisciplinary research teams – my own is an example of one – because it allows a lot of different perspectives to come together, and you end up with analyses that you might otherwise have missed.
Aboujaoude et al searched through several medical journals as well as using open-source resources such as Google to find data about cyberbullying. They went through government legislation, community responses and books, which must have taken a huge amount of time.
Their initial discoveries were perhaps unsurprising. Cyberbullying is quite prevalent, with up to 40% of young people having been victims to it at some point. The most likely groups to be targeted are females and sexual minorities, with males being the main perpetrators. There is a well-established link to suicidal thoughts and actions, as reported in several previous studies.
The researchers conclude that the importance of taking action to combat cyberbullying cannot be underestimated, particularly in an increasingly connected world.
“Available data suggest a serious problem whose consequences are real and should not be dismissed as a “virtual” by-product of an increasingly digitalised childhood and adolescence.”
So, what can we do about it?
According to Aboujaoude et al, the best approach would be multi-faceted rather than simply relying on a single element, such as government legislation, to deal with the problem.
Recommendations included educational media campaigns; programs in schools to help young people deal with concerns about cyberbullying and learn about its effects; parental awareness and oversight; government legislation; and interventions by health professionals such as doctors and mental health workers.
It is good to see subjects like this beginning to receive the attention they need; too often the problems of the “digital native” generation are dismissed by adults as being somehow less than real, simply because they take place online. But it is important to remember that when the majority of a person’s life is lived interconnected with digital devices, traumatic events that occur via those devices are just as important to address as any that might happen offline.
A lot of the work I do touches on working with young people. Whether it’s mentoring, teaching and training, volunteering at youth groups or my other job which involves child protection cases, I often find myself in situations where I see some of the things the world throws at young people and the ways they have to try to deal with life.
The Scottish Centre for Conflict Resolution also recognise this problem, and they’re working to solve it through a series of initiatives that have been set up since 2011.
In a national survey commissioned by the SCCR, it was discovered that 25% of young people thought about running away on a monthly basis. 5,000 young people each year become homeless due to issues relating to home relationships breaking down. Mediation in the past has been sketchy, with help often only available after the point of crisis.
To address these issues, the SCCR has launched a new public national awareness campaign called Stop. Talk. Listen.The idea is to get people talking about things before they become such huge problems that they prompt a breakdown of the family unit. There are campaigns on Twitter and Instagram using the #StopTalkListen tag, in which young people share the most common sources of consternation in their homes. These can range from the more mundane (“who does the dishes” seems to be a popular choice) to things that cause a great deal of distress.
Even the smaller problems can just be the tip of a bigger iceberg, though, and this is part of the SCCR’s campaign: to get people talking about the more everyday issues before they build into something larger and more unwieldy.
There’s a new interactive website as well, where people can download resources and you can watch video clips of people whose lives have been helped by mediation in the past. There’s also a forum on the website, and a few events and training courses coming up for people who are interested in conflict resolution.