Your child can be bullied at any age. Every 7 minutes a child is bullied. Studies show that it is most common from sixth to eighth grade. One out of 4 children is bullied. 282,000 students are physically attacked in secondary schools each month. Children targeted by bullies can develop lifelong problems that include depression, anger, trust and self-esteem. Bullied children are usually perceived as being somehow different than their peers. This can include children with special needs, perceived to be gay, are overweight, different ethnic group or a different religion. Most bullied children are shy and sensitive. Bullying is a problem that affects millions of students of all races.
Some people think adults are making too much of it. Some think that we should leave our children to their own devices. Bullying should be taken seriously even if there is no physical violence involved. Repeated insults, malicious rumors, social isolation, hazing or “cyberbullying” can leave deep psychological scars. Cyberbullying can be even more damaging than conventional schoolyard bullying because it follows a child home, so there is nowhere to feel safe. Forty-two percent of children have been bullied while online. Fifty-eight percent of children admit someone has said mean or hurtful things to them online. Four out of 10 say it has happened more than once. Fifty-eight percent have not told their parents or an adult about something mean or hurtful that happened to them online.
Parents of girls should be particularly watchful for “passive bullying” such as social isolation and rumors. Parents of boys should be aware that boys often are embarrassed to tell their parents that they are being physically bullied or that their possessions are being stolen. In both cases you should be vigilant of clues. This can include mood swings, withdrawal, reluctance to go to school, loss of interest in family activities, ripped clothing, difficult to explain bruises or anger. Long-term effects of bullying can include loss of self-esteem, serve depression, drug or alcohol abuse, self-harming and suicide.
Our children look to their parents for protection and advice. Parents should be careful of the direction they give their children. If parents recommend fighting back physically their child could be suspended or expelled. Most schools have a zero tolerance for fighting. If parents recommend fighting back verbally it could escalate the bullying. When some bullies are embarrassed in front of peers they typically punish the child that made them look bad. Some parent insists that the school should immediately take care of the problem. Sometimes this type of intervention is not would their child wants. This intervention can be embarrassing. This could cause the bullied child to not talk about future bullying.
Parents should work with their child to develop strategies that include their input. Both child and parent should determine whether you’re dealing with a power motivated bully or a jokester. Some bullies aren’t trying to be bullies. They think they are being funny. Parents should talk to the bully’s teacher to help determine if the child is just a joker. If this is the case your child could talk to the bully alone and tell the other child that they are not funny. This won’t work with children who abuse others because of a desire for power.
You can also help your child plan a bully deflating response. Bullies typically move on to other targets when their bullying repeatedly fail to elicit the desired response that include tears, anger, fear or other signs of suffering. Have your child practice providing simple responses that show disdain or disinterest and not fear or anger. A child should respond and just walk away. This works best when the bullying is verbal.
If possible, help your child learn to just avoid the bully when possible. Most times bullying is opportunistic. Your child could sit at the front of the bus when going to school. They can remain near an adult at recess or lunch. You can have the school place an adult near your child during most free time activities. Your child can also join groups that share their interest. Having friends will help blunt some of the negative impact of bullying.
Parents should reassure their child that they are safe and loved at home. This is especially important for bullied elementary children. The more a child hears that they are safe and loved, the higher their self-esteem is likely to climb. Heighten self-esteem decreases the odds that your child will burst into tears or run in fear when confronted by a bully. This also increases the chances that the bully will move to a different child.
Online bullying can be particularly vicious because these bullies believe their words can’t be traced back to them. You should instruct your child to save bullying e-mails and text messages. Print out hard copies. If the bullying continues, you should contact your internet provider or the web site the bullying is being spread and file a complaint. They might be able to trace or block the bully. Sometimes by just telling a suspected cyber bully that you plan to contact someone can stop the bully.
You can ask for help at school to find solutions. Children spend almost a third of their day in school. You can also try to talk to the parents of the bully, but only if you know the parents are well meaning, attentive and likely to respond reasonably. You should also remember there are laws in place to handle bullying.
If you, a family member or a friend is being bullied you can do something about it.