Bullying continues to be a concern with parents and what their children can endure from other kids and now that school is here, it can start again. It is important to help your child understand that Bullying is not accepted and can potentially end up harming others not only emotionally – sometimes psychically. Here are some great tips for parents by Connect with Kids.
“I kept trying to figure out ways to become better friends with them, like ways to fix myself so I could be better … like I wasn’t good enough… but then any time I changed anything … I changed my clothes, I learned that it wasn’t about my clothes because no matter what I did it was not good enough.”
– Sarah Nadler, bullying victim
Three out of four children say they’re bullied. One in ten say it happens everyday.
Fourteen-year-old Alex Freed, who is tall and skinny with red hair and glasses, says it happened to him, “all day, from morning till the end; from 8 o’clock until 3 o’clock.”
Alex’s bullying was not physical. Instead of being beaten up or threatened, some of his classmates teased, laughed at and excluded him.
“I sometimes had to lie to mom and tell her I was sick so I wouldn’t have to go to school,” Alex says.
In fact, studies have found that two-thirds of students said they were bullied not with fists but by words.
Dr. Tim Jordan, a pediatrician who conducts a bullying workshop with students, says, “We have a whole building full of kids who feel unsafe – emotionally unsafe.”
Children report that oftentimes, bullies will use anything – clothes, hair, body size and even feelings about school – as a springboard for ridiculing others.
Thea McLain, a student in Dr. Jordan’s workshop, says, “If you’re in drama instead of football, you’re gay; if you like literature over gym class, you’re gay; if you’re academic instead of athletic, you’re gay.”
A bully’s words can be cruel and hurtful, yet so many children, like Sarah Nadler, never tell anyone – not even their parents.
“I didn’t really want to break down in front of them, ’cause I didn’t want them to know I was hurting,” Sarah says.
Experts say that the best advice isn’t easy: Raise a child who is emotionally strong and self-confident, because bullies target children who appear vulnerable.
“So if you walk into the school building with a belief system that says, ‘I don’t deserve to be taken care of, I’m probably not going to make friends, people aren’t going to like me,’ then guess what? You’re probably going to attract that kind of thing,” Dr. Jordan says.
Another piece of advice comes from Sarah’s father, Jed.
“I would say just to make sure your child knows that you’re there to listen … and you’ll just hear what they have to say and hug them and love them, and see if that’s cure enough,” he says.
Tips for Parents
Results of a survey reveal that children in the fifth through 12th grades worry more about emotional violence vs. physical violence. The survey of 1,000 children, conducted by the Families and Work Institute, found that two-thirds of the students said that peers had teased or gossiped about them in a mean way in the past month. Consider these additional findings:
- Twelve percent of the kids surveyed had been bullied five times or more in the past month.
- Approximately 23% admitted they had bullied someone else.
- Eight percent said they had been attacked with a weapon.
- Another 8% said they had been forced to perform sexual acts.
In fact, the National School Safety Center cites a poll of 477 teens and 456 parents that provides further evidence to support that intimidation and physical abuse are typical parts of a school day for U.S. students:
- Of the 14-17 year-olds surveyed, more than two-thirds report that their school houses a group of students who sometimes or frequently intimidate others, often with no or few consequences.
- While many victims respond by isolating themselves, almost a third of respondents said victims usually plan ways to get back at the intimidators.
- Only a third of students believe the school penalizes students who engage in intimidation.
- Less than a third of victims report the behavior to someone at school.
- Only 16% of teens said that other students intercede when a fellow student is being intimidated or embarrassed.
The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) says that bullying – the act of threatening to hurt or frighten someone – may be physical, verbal, emotional or sexual in nature:
- Physical bullying includes punching, poking, strangling, hair pulling, beating, biting and excessive tickling.
- Verbal bullying includes such acts as hurtful name-calling, teasing and gossiping.
- Emotional bullying includes rejecting, terrorizing, extorting, defaming, humiliating, blackmailing, rating/ranking of personal characteristics – such as race, disability, ethnicity or perceived sexual orientation – manipulating friendships, isolating, ostracizing and peer pressure.
- Sexual bullying includes many of the actions listed above as well as exhibitionism, voyeurism, sexual propositioning, sexual harassment and abuse involving actual physical contact and sexual assault.
All of these types of bullying can interfere with students’ learning. The U.S. DOE cites these negative consequences that bullying victims often experience:
- Grades may suffer because attention is drawn away from learning.
- Fear may lead to absenteeism, truancy or dropping out.
- Victims may lose or fail to develop self-esteem, experience feelings of isolation and may become withdrawn and depressed.
- As students and later as adults, victims may be hesitant to take social, intellectual, emotional or vocational risks.
- If the problem persists, victims occasionally feel compelled to take drastic measures, such as vengeance in the form of fighting back, weapon-carrying or even suicide.
- Victims are more likely than non-victims to grow up being socially anxious and insecure, displaying more symptoms of depression than those who were not victimized as children.
In addition, bystanders and peers of victims can be negatively affected by acts of bullying:
- They may become afraid to associate with the victim for fear of lowering their own status or of retribution from the bully and becoming victims themselves.
- They may fear reporting bullying incidents because they do not want to be called a “snitch,” a “tattler” or an “informer.”
- Some experience feelings of guilt or helplessness for not standing up to the bully on behalf of their classmate.
- Many may be drawn into bullying behavior by group pressure.
- They may feel unsafe, unable to take action or a loss of control.
Even the bullies themselves can experience long-term outcomes from harassing others. The National Resource Center for Safe Schools (NRCSS) reports that bullies identified by age 8 are six times more likely than non-bullies to be convicted of a crime by the time they reach age 24 and five times more likely to end up with serious criminal records by age 30.
Who is likely to be a victim of bullying? The NCRSS says that passive loners are the most frequent victims, especially if they cry easily or lack social self-defense skills. Many victims are unable to deflect a conflict with humor and don’t think quickly on their feet. They are usually anxious, insecure and cautious and suffer from low self-esteem. In addition, they rarely defend themselves or retaliate and tend to lack friends, making them easy to isolate.
If you suspect that your child is being bullied, you can help him or her in the following ways cited by the Committee for Children:
- Encourage your child to report bullying incidents to you. Validate your child’s feelings by letting him or her know that it is normal to feel hurt, sad, scared, angry, etc. Help your child be specific in describing bullying incidents – who, what, where and when.
- Ask your child how he or she has tried to stop the bullying. Coach him or her in possible coping methods – avoidance of the bully and making new friends for support.
- Treat the school as your ally. Share your child’s concerns and specific information around bullying incidents with appropriate school personnel. Work with school staff to protect your child from possible retaliation. Establish a plan with the school and your child for dealing with future bullying incidents. Volunteer time to help supervise on field trips, on the playground or in the lunchroom. And become an advocate for school-wide bullying prevention programs and policies.
- Encourage your child to continue to talk with you about all bullying incidents. Never ignore your child’s report. Remember that you should not advise your child to physically fight back. Bullying lasts longer and becomes more severe when children fight back, and physical injuries often result. Also, you should not confront the bullying child or his or her parents.
Unlike victims, bullies appear to suffer little anxiety and possess strong self-esteem, according to the NCRSS. They often come from homes where physical punishment is used and where children are taught to strike back physically as a way of handling problems. Bullies thus believe that it is all right for stronger children to hit weaker children. They frequently lack parental warmth and involvement and seem to desire power and control.
If you suspect that your child is bullying others, the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) suggests you seek help for him or her as soon as possible. Without intervention, bullying can lead to serious academic, social, emotional and legal difficulties. Talk to your child’s pediatrician, teacher, principal, school counselor or family physician. If the bullying continues, the AACAP advises you to arrange a comprehensive evaluation of your child by a child and adolescent psychiatrist or other mental health professional should be arranged.
The Coalition for Children says that you can also help your child by discussing with him or her these key points about bullying:
- Remind your child that bullying is not acceptable in your family or in society.
- Provide your child with alternatives to taking frustration or aggression out on others. You can even role-play different ways to behave in situations where your child would normally bully another.
- Specify concretely the consequences if the aggression or bullying continue.
While bullying, harassment and teasing are unfortunate aspects of childhood, you can help minimize these occurrences by raising non-violent children. The American Academy of Pediatrics cites the following tips for curbing hurtful behavior in your child:
- Give your child consistent love and attention. Every child needs a strong, loving, relationship with a parent or other adult to feel safe and secure and to develop a sense of trust. Without a steady bond to a caring adult, a child is at risk for becoming hostile, difficult and hard to manage.
- Make sure your child is supervised. A child depends on his or her parents and family members for encouragement, protection and support as he or she learns to think for himself or herself. Without proper supervision, your child will not receive the guidance he or she needs. Studies report that unsupervised children often have behavior problems.
- Show your child appropriate behaviors by the way you act. Children often learn by example. The behavior, values and attitudes of parents and siblings have a strong influence on them. Most children sometimes act aggressively and may hit another person. Be firm with your child about the possible dangers of violent behavior. Also remember to praise your child when he or she solves problems constructively without violence.
- Don’t hit your child. Hitting or slapping your child as punishment shows him or her that it’s OK to hit others to solve problems and can train him or her to punish others in the same way he or she were punished.
- Be consistent about rules and discipline. When you make a rule, stick to it. Your child needs structure with clear expectations for his or her behavior. Setting rules and then not enforcing them is confusing and sets up your child to “see what he or she can get away with.”
- Make sure your child does not have access to guns. Guns and children can be a deadly combination. Teach your child about the dangers of firearms or other weapons if you own and use them. If you keep a gun in your home, unload it and lock it up separately from the bullets. Don’t carry a gun or a weapon. If you do, this tells your child that using guns solves problems.
- Try to keep your child from seeing violence in the home or community. Violence in the home can be frightening and harmful to children. A child who has seen violence at home does not always become violent, but he or she may be more likely to try to resolve conflicts with violence.
- Try to keep your child from seeing too much violence in the media. Watching a lot of violence on television, in the movies and in video games can lead children to behave aggressively. As a parent, you can control the amount of violence your child sees in the media by limiting television viewing and previewing games, movies, etc., before allowing access to them by your child.
- Help your child stand up against violence. Support your child in standing up against violence. Teach him or her to respond with calm but firm words when others insult, threaten or hit another person. Help your child understand that it takes more courage and leadership to resist violence than to go along with it.
- American Academy of Pediatrics
- American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry
- Coalition for Children
- Committee for Children
- Families and Work Institute
- National Resource Center for Safe Schools
- National School Safety Center
- U.S. Department of Education
- University of Zurich