VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA – Many children who are bullied suffer in
silence. The trauma can lead to anxiety, depression, psychotic episodes
and even suicide.
There may be a way to identify victims of bullying before
they experience serious mental health problems, according
to a study to be presented Saturday, May 3, at the Pediatric Academic Societies
(PAS) annual meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Researchers from the University of Warwick in the
United Kingdom found that nightmares or night terrors were more common in
12-year-olds who had reported being bullied when they were 8 and 10 years old.
“Nightmares are relatively common in childhood, while night terrors
occur in up to 10 percent of children,” said lead author Suzet Tanya Lereya,
PhD, research fellow at University of Warwick. “If
either occurs frequently or over a prolonged time period, they may indicate
that a child/adolescent has or is being bullied by peers. These arousals in
sleep may indicate significant distress for the child.”
Dr. Lereya and Dieter Wolke, PhD, analyzed
data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, which examined the
determinants of development, health and disease during childhood and beyond. Children
were enrolled at birth, and 6,438 were interviewed
at ages 8 and 10 years about bullying and at age 12 about parasomnias,
including nightmares, night terrors and sleep walking.
Survey results showed that at age 12 years, 1,555 (24.2 percent) of children had
nightmares, 598 (9.3 percent) had night terrors, 814 (12.6 percent) reported sleep
walking and 2,315 (36 percent) had at least one type of parasomnia (nightmares,
night terrors and sleep walking).
After adjusting for confounders (e.g., any
psychiatric diagnosis, family
adversity, IQ, internalizing and externalizing problems, sexual or physical
abuse, domestic violence, and nightmares before 8 years), children who
were victimized at 8 or 10 years were significantly more likely to have
nightmares, night terrors or sleep walking at age 12. Moreover, those who were
both a victim and a bully were much more likely to have any parasomnia, but
bullies were not at increased risk of a sleep disturbance.
“Our findings indicate that being bullied is a
significant stress/trauma that leads to increased risk of sleep arousal
problems, such as nightmares or night terrors,” said Dr. Wolke, professor of developmental
psychology and individual differences at University of Warwick. “It is an
easily identifiable indicator that something scary is being processed during the
night. Parents should be aware that this may be related to experiences of being
bullied by peers, and it provides them with an opportunity to talk with their
child about it.
“General practitioners also should consider peer
bullying as a potential precursor of nightmares or night terrors in children,”
Dr. Wolke added.
Dr. Lereya will present “Can Bullying
Become a Nightmare?” from 11:45 a.m. to noon Saturday, May 3. To view the study
abstract, go to http://www.abstracts2view.com/pas/view.php?nu=PAS14L1_1415.6.
This study was supported by a grant from the Economic and Social Research
Council in the United Kingdom (ES/K003593/1).
The Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) are four
individual pediatric organizations that co-sponsor the PAS Annual Meeting – the
American Pediatric Society, the Society for Pediatric Research, the Academic
Pediatric Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Members of these
organizations are pediatricians and other health care providers who are
practicing in the research, academic and clinical arenas. The four sponsoring
organizations are leaders in the advancement of pediatric research and child
advocacy within pediatrics, and all share a common mission of fostering the
health and well-being of children worldwide. For more
information, visit www.pas-meeting.org.
Follow news of the PAS meeting on Twitter at http://twitter.com/PedAcadSoc.