While it’s something that has gained a lot of press in recent years, bullying is not a new thing. In past generations, it was considered a rite of passage, and was something that was simply expected. Today, however, we have a much better understanding of bullying and the lifelong effects of it on both the bully and the victim.
Bullying takes on many different forms. Verbal bullying includes intimidation and threats, name calling, insults about gender, race, sexual orientation, special needs, disabilities, or other personal characteristics, public humiliation, and spreading rumors. Physical bullying includes tripping, pinching, hitting, pushing, and destroying or stealing personal property. Cyberbullying includes harassing emails, texts, and instant messages, and intimidating, harassing, or humiliating posts and pictures on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and other websites. Cyberbullying can be especially damaging because it continues outside of school hours and off of school grounds, and has the ability to reach a large audience. These attacks can continue to circulate online long after the initial event.
If you think your child is being bullied, you’re not alone. Up to half of all children are bullied at some point during their school years, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Some of the possible warning signs that your child might be a victim of bullying are if your child:
- Comes home with torn clothes.
- Is missing sweaters, jackets, school supplies, or other things repeatedly.
- Has unexplained cuts, bruises, and scratches.
- Is afraid of going to school, walking to and from school, or riding the school bus.
- Suddenly begins to do poorly in school.
- Is sad, upset, angry, or depressed when she comes home.
- Complains frequently of headaches, stomachaches, being tired, or other physical ailments that would prevent her from going to school.
- Has few friends.
If you think your child might be being bullied, you’re not helpless. There are things you can do to stop the bullying, help your child deal with the after effects, and stop future attacks.
Encourage your child to share her feelings. It’s important that your child has a safe place to talk about what’s happening and how she feels about it. When your child opens up, listen without dismissing her feelings (e.g. “Oh, you shouldn’t get so upset about what she says.”), without downplaying the incident (e.g. “Don’t listen to what that boy says. You’re beautiful just how you are!”) or without assuring her things will immediately change (e.g. “I’ll talk to your teacher and it will be OK.”) Offer empathy and support, let her know you’re on her side, remind her that she’s not to blame for what happened, and work with her to find a solution.
Contact school administrators. You should report all bullying to your child’s school. Many schools have bullying policies already in place so you’ll have a good idea what to expect. Present as many details as you have and ask what actions will be taken. Make sure you follow up and stay up-to-date on how your complaint is being handled. Unfortunately not all principals and teachers take bullying seriously and you may have to be the squeaky wheel to get them to take meaningful action. If your child was physically attacked, talk to the school principal immediately to decide if the police should be involved.
Model an honest yet appropriate response. Of course you’re going to be angry if your child is being bullied. Be honest with your child about how you’re feeling while letting her know that acting on anger, hurt, humiliation or other negative emotions doesn’t solve the problem. Put your energy into working with the school to stop the bullying behavior to ensure the bully is dealt with appropriately and to help your child deal with the emotional toll of bullying.
Boost your child’s self-esteem. There’s no such thing as a bully-proof child, but kids that have high self-esteem, are part of supportive friendships, and are involved in activities they enjoy and are good at are much less susceptible to bullying. In today’s world there’s a group, team, or club for pretty much any activity your child is interested in. Sports, volunteering, music, performing arts, chess, gaming, or outdoor adventure can all help your child avoid or successfully deal with bullying. If her school doesn’t offer anything your child is interested in, look in your local community.
Bullying is a problem that isn’t going away anytime soon. Public awareness, prevention programs, and progressive school policies are making it easier to identify and deal with bullies, but occurrences of bullying aren’t declining. In fact, cyberbullying is increasing at an alarming rate as smart phones become standard equipment for students. As a parent, you have the power to help your child to deal with bullying wherever and whenever she might encounter it.
P.S. This post was proposed to me for publication by Meghan Welker. I'm therefore publishing it by her invitation and under her permission. See also the link below fore more information