It wasn’t long ago that bullying was seen as an unfortunate — but inevitable — aspect of life on the school playground. But due to rising media coverage on school bullying and its serious consequences, in addition to a recent spike in Internet- and cell-phone-based harassment, the nation has changed its tune.
Schools, workplaces and online social networks have adopted no-tolerance policies on continued harassment, given the serious consequences of intimidation and abuse. Suicides of victims, such as the untimely death of high schooler Phoebe Prince, have sparked anti-bullying legislation. The Health Resources and Services Administration runs a child-friendly, interactive website called “Stop Bullying Now!” in an effort to restrain peer-to-peer harassment. The government has also devoted funds to the National Center for Bullying Prevention, which runs awareness programs aimed at kids and teens to prevent and stop the practice of bullying. Schools have outlined strategies to address the problem of bullies and to appropriately resolve any issues related to violence and mistreatment. The message is out there: bullying is never tolerated.
Yet bullying in all its forms — online and on the playground — continues. Bullying has serious long-term effects for both the victim and the perpetrator that can be prevented if a problem is immediately addressed. Here are 10 things every parent needs to know about bullying:
What is bullying, anyway?
Bullying is the act of repeatedly and deliberately intimidating another person using words, actions or behavior. Commonly, bullying occurs through teasing, exclusion, and physical harassment. The definition has recently expanded to include cyber bullying, where mobile phones, social networking sites, or chat rooms are used to spread rumors and insult others.
How to tell if your child is being bullied.
Despite the prevalence of anti-bullying campaigns and zero-tolerance policies in schools, this behavior still exists. Many children who are bullied do not reach out to others, either out of shame or fear that the bullies will find out. Physical indicators, such as unexplained bruising and scratches or torn clothing, may point to bullying. Other signs that your child is being bullied are harder to pinpoint: general unhappiness, reluctance to go to school, declining academic performance, altered sleep patterns or nightmares, and major changes in relationships with others.
Dealing with bullying.
If you suspect that your child is being bullied, encourage him to open up to you about it. He may be reluctant to tell you out of shame or fear that the bully will find out.
- Take time to listen. Offer him support and make it clear that the bullying is not his fault. Many children actually believe the negative things they hear about themselves or believe they deserve the bullying. Express to your child that there is no excuse for bullying and that no one deserves it.
- Talk about it. Speak with him about why he thinks he’s being picked on — by determining what is making him a target, he can work on strategies to overcome the problem. If you suspect that it’s your child’s lack of confidence that is making him a target, encourage his self-confidence by highlighting the things he does well.
- Share your advice. Offer advice on what he can do or say that may help his situation, such as ignoring name-calling or imagining an invisible wall around him that will protect him from harsh words. Make sure he knows that he isn’t alone — it may help to discuss a time when you were bullied as a child and the steps you took to overcome it.
- Create a plan — calmly. Resist the temptation to immediately rush out and solve the problem. Rationally collect and confirm the facts with your child. Talk about a plan of action to deal with the bullying — for example, calling the school or creating coping strategies. Don’t encourage him to fight back, and don’t try to fix the problem yourself by talking directly to the bully or his parents, as this could worsen your child’s situation.
- Go to the source. Contact your child’s school, if the bullying is happening there. It is likely they have a policy on bullying and should be receptive to your concerns.
How bullies pick their victims.
Any child can get bullied by being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the qualities that make your child accepted in one environment — being popular, smart or attractive, for example — can single him out for bullying in another. Bullies generally set their sights on anyone who’s different, in terms of either appearance or interest. Younger or smaller children are at risk for bullying because of their increased vulnerability. Children who struggle with shyness or self-confidence, due to a lack of performance in sports or at school, may also be targeted by bullies.
Who becomes a bully
Looks can be deceiving: Bullies aren’t always the biggest kids in the classroom. They’re usually kids trying to compensate for something that’s missing in their own lives. Kids who bully often perform poorly at school and struggle to make strong and lasting friendships. Bullies tend to rely on intimidating those around them — their victims, the witnesses, their “gang” of sidekicks — to prevent stopping their reign of terror. Experts believe that many bullies have learned this behavior as a result of being bullied themselves.
My child — a bully?
Chances are, you’ll find out this information through a teacher or another parent. Though it can be difficult to hear that your child is a bully, it’s important that you act rationally and quickly in response. Here’s how you can deal with a bully in your house:
- Keep watch. Observe your child’s behavior for signs of bullying, such as continually feigning innocence or blaming others for her offenses. Support positive forms of interaction with peers and enforce the idea that treating others badly will not be tolerated.
- Discuss the incident. Ask your child to explain the situation and why it happened without becoming judgmental. Explain that bullying is completely unacceptable — make a clear distinction between criticizing the behavior without rejecting your child.
- Be supportive. Let her know that you’re confident she can change, and that you know she is capable of kindness and empathy.
- Check your conduct, too. Keep watch of your behavior, as well — if you use intimidation tactics with your children, they will apply that experience to their own interactions.
Who bullying affects
The short answer? Everyone. Even if your child is not the victim or the perpetrator in a bullying situation, he will watch what’s going on, which can be very distressing and perhaps make him feel anxious. How to talk about it:
- Bring it up at dinner. You should talk with your kids about bullying in order for them to understand what behavior is and is not acceptable. Because bullying is a national issue, discussing it is a grown-up conversation that kids will feel proud to be included in. Ask how your child how he would feel if he saw someone being bullied and what he would do. Suggest that he tell an adult or make an effort to include a bullying victim in other activities. Emphasize the idea that even one person can make a difference.
- Tackle cyber bullies. The anonymity of bullying while using cell phones and social networking sites has taken abuse to more extreme measures. Learn as much as possible about any technology your child might be using. Show an interest in your child’s online activities and the sites he accesses online. Outline clear guidelines regarding Internet use and the information your child posts on websites or in chat rooms.
Facts and figures about bullying
- According to a 2009 report by the National Center for Education Statistics, nearly a third of all students aged 12 – 18 reported having been bullied at school in 2007, some almost daily.
- Of those students in 2007 who reported being bullied during the school year, 79 percent said that they were bullied inside the school.
- A poll of 1,000 kids nationwide revealed that One-third of all teens (ages 12-17) and one-sixth of children (ages 6-11) have had mean, threatening or embarrassing things said about them online. Of that number, 16 percent of the teens and preteens who were victims told no one about it. (Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, 2006)
- Adolescent girls are significantly more likely to have experienced cyberbullying in their lifetimes. Girls are also more likely to report cyberbullying others during their lifetime. The type of cyberbullying tends to differ by gender; girls are more likely to spread rumors while boys are more likely to post hurtful pictures or videos. (http://www.cyberbullying.us/research.php)
Prevent bullying in the home.
Kids’ behavior often stems from their home environment. Create a setting for your child where you openly discuss the dangers of bullying and encourage positivity and respect for others. Help your child build caring and genuine friendships, such as setting up sleepovers and after-school activities that encourage social bonds.
Check in at school.
Become familiar with your school’s anti-bullying policies in the event that your child becomes involved in a harassment situation. If you feel the school is not treating a situation seriously, make an appointment to see the principal, who can explain the school’s procedures and have the matter resolved as quickly as possible.