Adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, are potentially traumatic events that can have negative, lasting effects on a person. For children and youth in situations of prolonged and repeated abuse – like bullying and cyberbullying – the impact can affect their development, the way they interact with others, and how they perform in school. It may also affect mental and physical health.
When a child or teen is experiencing social, emotional, behavioral, and physical problems, health care professionals could probe to see if bullying may be involved. A patient may be the target of bullying, the perpetrator, or a bystander to bullying. To help prepare for talking with patients, providers can learn about the warning signs for bullying. They can also take the free bullying prevention continuing education training. Asking questions about friendships, use of technology, social media and gaming, and experiences with bullying can help health care providers understand the social experiences of their patients.
Protective factors that health care professionals can assess during a well-child check are parental warmth and connectedness, and perceived caring by friends and other supportive adults. It is also important for health professionals to remember that youth with certain characteristics are at greater risk for being bullied. These include youth with disabilities and special health needs. Since perceived differences are often what children who bully focus on, LGBTQ youth and religious or ethnic minorities are also at higher risk.
Identifying and addressing bullying early can help to prevent long-term mental and physical health problems. Schools can collaborate with health care providers to train school staff and students on how to prevent and address bullying. They can also share information about bullying laws and policies in their state.