Bullying is a problem that can derail a child’s schooling, social life, and, most importantly, their emotional well being. It’s also an issue that has been made even more pressing in recent years because of the increased use among children of the Internet, cell phones, and other means of communication as tools to harass each other. Adults may have a tendency to ignore bullying, to write it off as a normal part of life that all kids have to go through. However, it’s a real problem with dangerous consequences, and it should be dealt with accordingly.
Bullying is a behavior that can include any one of a whole range of actions that cause physical or emotional pain, from spreading rumors to intentional exclusion to physical abuse. Bullying prevention expert Dr. Ken Rigby has a useful formulation:
Bullying = a desire to hurt + hurtful action + a power imbalance + (typically) repetition + an unjust use of power + evident enjoyment by the aggressor and a sense of being oppressed on the part of the victim.
Everyone wants to believe that while sticks and stones may break our bones, words will never hurt us. As teens and many children know, however, that’s not quite true. Words can be just as harmful, if not more so, than physical abuse.
Bullying can be subtle, and many children won’t tell their parents or teachers about it out of fear of retribution or shame. Children may also fear being blamed themselves or losing privileges if they report being bullied. That’s why it’s important that parents, teachers, and other responsible adults are constantly looking for bullying behaviors.
Some warning signs that a child is being bullied include:
- unexplained cuts or bruises
- damaged or missing clothing, books, school supplies, or other belongings
- takes unnecessarily long routes to school
- suddenly loses interest in school work or begins to perform poorly
- no longer wants to hang out with friends
- frequently complains of headaches or stomach aches and asks to stay home sick
- loss of appetite
- trouble sleeping
- emotionally reticent
- appears moody or depressed or appears to suffer from social anxiety and low self-esteem
- any unexplained change in behavior
Bullying has a negative effect on everyone — the bully, the target, the people who witness the bullying, and anyone connected. Stopbullying.gov, head of the Bullying Research Network Dr. Susan Swearer, and the Committee for Children point out some of the short- and long-term effects of bullying.
- Although the statistics vary based on the different methodologies used to study bullying, it’s commonly accepted that 75 percent of school-age kids are affected by bullying at some point during their school years.
- Kids who are identified as a bully by age 8 are six times more likely to be convicted of a crime by the time they’re 24.
- 160,000 kids in the United States miss school daily because of bullying.
- Targets of bullying suffer from headaches, stomach aches, depression, and eating disorders.
- Targets of bullying have a high incidence of dropping out of school, self-mutilation, substance abuse, suicide, and violence towards others.
- The U.S Secret Service found that from 1974 to 2000 there were 37 school shootings. Two-thirds of the shooters were long-term bullied or harassed at school.
- Observers can suffer the same physical symptoms as the targets. They get headaches and stomach aches. They have school phobias and high levels of anxiety and feel helpless and powerless. They also tend to have poor coping and problem-solving skills.
Engage Your Child
The first thing to do if you notice something’s wrong with your child is to talk to them. The most important thing you can do for a bullied child is to validate the situation. Pay attention to the child’s feelings and let him or her know you care. You may not be able to solve all the problems for your child right away. It’s essential is that you let them know that you’re supportive.
Be a Role Model
Bullying is a learned behavior. Children pick up antisocial behaviors like bullying from adult role models, parents, teachers, and from media representation. A study done by Brigham Young University researchers found that there are an average of 52 acts of relational aggression an hour on reality TV and 33 an hour on regular TV shows. This type of general meanness rubs off on kids.
Teach your child good social behavior from an early age. Being a positive role model can influence potential bullies, targets, and bystanders. Your child is less likely to enter damaging or hurtful relationships if their parent also avoids those types of negative associations.
Continual training and education is essential if bullying is to be stopped in our communities. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services “Stop Bullying Now” campaign suggests that schools set aside 20 or 30 minutes of class time a week to discuss bullying with students. This gives teachers time to talk openly to students about bullying and to get a feel for what the bullying climate is in the school. It will also help children understand what behaviors are considered bullying. School-wide assemblies on the subject can also be helpful in bringing the issue out into the open.
It's also important to educate school staff and other adults. They should understand the nature of bullying and its effects, how to respond to bullying in the school, and how to work with others in the community to prevent bullying.
Build a Consensus
Bullying is a community problem and requires a community solution. Everybody has to be on board to successfully stamp out bullying. This includes:
- bus drivers
- cafeteria workers
- school nurses
- after-school instructors
- the students themselves
If your child is being bullied, it’s important that you don’t confront the bully or the bully’s parent yourself. It’s unlikely to be productive and can even be dangerous. Work with the community. Teachers, counselors, and administrators may have additional information and resources that can help determine the appropriate course of action. Develop a community strategy to address bullying.
Similar to the need for a community effort is the need for a plan in how bullying is dealt with. Every child should be treated equally. Emotional bullying should be addressed in the same way as physical bullying.
In an effort to reduce bullying, it’s essential to change the social climate of the school. Written school policies should not only disallow bullying behavior, but also make clear that students are expected to assist students who appear to be in any kind of trouble. The rules should be clear and concise so that everyone can understand them at a glance.
It’s important that the rules for bullying are enforced consistently throughout the school. School staff needs to be able to intervene immediately to stop bullying, and there should also be follow-up meetings for both the bully and the target. The parents of affected students should be involved when possible.
The Youth Voice Project surveyed 13,000 teens in 31 schools across the United States and asked them to share their experiences with bullying. The project uncovered the power of bystanders when it comes to fighting bullying. Bystanders are the students who see or hear of their peers being bullied.
Typically, bystanders often feel powerless to help. They think that stepping in may bring the bully's attacks onto themselves or make them into social outcasts. But the Youth Voice Project found that some sort of connection with a bystander helped the victim cope with the situation. The victim felt better when a witness approached them afterwards and acknowledged that what happened wasn’t okay.
It's essential to empower bystanders to help. Schools should work to protect bystanders from retaliation and help them understand that their silence can make bullies more powerful.
Work With the Bully
Don’t forget that the bully has his or her own set of problems to deal with and also needs help from adults. Bullies often engage in bullying behaviors out of a lack of empathy and trust or as a result of problems at home.
Bullies first need to recognize that their behavior is bullying. They then need to understand that bullying will lead to negative consequences. They’re hurting themselves as much as they’re hurting others., You can nip bullying behavior in the bud by showing them that there are consequences to their actions.