Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never harm me. There was a time, not too long ago, when this was all you needed in your arsenal to combat a bully. Times have changed.
October is Bullying Prevention Month. Before we can delve into how to combat bullying or how to recognize if your child is being bullied or is the bully, it is important to understand the definition as it is today. In 2014, the Centers for Disease Control, in conjunction with the Department of Education released a definition of bullying as “unwanted aggressive behavior; observed or perceived power imbalance; and repetition of behaviors or high likelihood of repetition.”
It is likely that most people have experienced some form of teasing during their childhood. It is unfortunate, but it happens. Learning how to respect others, even those you don’t always agree with, is a process that we all go through. But what happens when the teasing goes too far? How do you know if your child is the victim of a joke gone bad, or if it is something much deeper? What if you find your child is the one causing the harm? The fact that bullying has become such a widespread issue means there are resources available to help educate and inform.
Types of Bullying
As technology and communications have evolved, so have the ways in which children are bullied. Bullying has gone beyond name calling and physical altercations, it can take on many different personas. Bullying can include spreading rumors, making threats of both physical and emotional harm, attacking someone physically or verbally and excluding someone on purpose. According to stopbullying.gov, a website managed by the United States Department of Health and Human Services in an effort to combat bullying, officially there are four different types of bullying.
Verbal Bullying – saying or writing mean things including:
Inappropriate Sexual Comments
Social Bullying or Relational Bullying – hurting someone’s reputation or relationships:
Leaving someone out on purpose
Telling others not to be friends with someone
Purposefully embarrassing someone in public
Physical Bullying – hurting a person’s body or possessions:
Taking or breaking someone’s things
Making mean or rude hand gestures
Cyberbullying – bullying that takes place using electronic technology such as cell phones, computers and tablets. Outlets for cyberbullying include:
Recognize the Signs
It is very upsetting to a parent to think that their child is the victim of a bully. By definition, parents are supposed to protect their children from harm, both physical and emotional. Unfortunately, parents can’t be everywhere at every moment. We trust that others will treat our children with respect and kindness. Sadly, this isn’t always the case. In order for parents to be able to help stop bullying, they must be able to recognize the signs.
According to stopbullying.gov, there are warning signs to look out for if you think your child is being bullied including:
Lost or destroyed clothing, books, electronics or jewelry
Frequent headaches or stomach aches, feeling sick or faking illness
Changes in eating habits, suddenly skipping meals; may come home hungry because they didn’t eat lunch
Difficulty sleeping or frequent nightmares
Declining grades; not wanting to go to school
Sudden loss of friends or avoidance of social situations
Feelings of helplessness or decreased self-esteem
Self-destructive behavior such as running away, harming themselves or talking about suicide
It is important to remember that not all children exhibit the same signs or symptoms. You know your child best. If you feel that they are exhibiting any of these signs, or if they aren’t acting like themselves, don’t ignore it.
The same holds true if you think your child may be bullying others. No parent wants to believe that their child is capable of bullying another, but it is happening.
Is Bullying Others…
Some of the warning signs that your child may be involved in bullying include:
Getting into physical or verbal fights
Having friends who bully others
Are increasingly aggressive
Getting sent to the principal’s office or detention frequently
Having unexplained extra money or new belongings
Blaming others for their problems
Not accepting responsibility for their actions
Are competitive & worry about their reputation or popularity
If you believe your child is bullying someone, it is important to acknowledge the problem and not dismiss it as a “phase” or innocent teasing.
Ways To Help
If you believe your child is being bullied it is important to address it immediately. One of the best defenses against bullying is education. Make sure your child knows the true definition of bullying. Once they know what bullying is, it is important to have an open dialogue with your child. If they feel that they can openly talk to you about what has been going on, they are more likely to come to you sooner rather than later. Stopbullying.gov lists the following as ways to help stop bullying:
Listen and focus on the child. Learn what has been going on and show you want to help.
Assure the child that bullying is not their fault
Understand that children who are experiencing bullying may have difficulty talking about it. Consider referring them to a school counselor, psychologist or another mental health expert.
Give advice on what to do. This may include role-playing or talking through different scenarios the child has experienced.
Be persistent. Bullying does not get resolved overnight. Maintain contact with your child’s school to ensure that all measures are being taken to help resolve the situation. Commit to making it stop and constantly support your child.
If you believe your child is a victim of cyberbullying, information is key. It is important to monitor your children’s online accounts and know who they are communicating with. Ask for all passwords and let your child know that you will only use them if you think they are in danger or in an emergency. Establishing rules and guidelines for technology use is essential in cases of cyberbullying.
Is Bullying Others…
As with a child that is being bullied, if you believe your child is bullying others it is important to address it immediately. Make sure your child understands what bullying behavior is and that it is unacceptable. Stopbullying.gov suggests taking the following steps if your child is involved in bullying:
Show the child that bullying is taken very seriously. Model respectful behavior when addressing the problem
Work with the child to understand some of the reasons he or she is bullying others. For example, peer pressure or troubles at home can attribute to bullying behavior.
Use consequences to teach. Consequences that involve learning or building empathy can help prevent future bullying.
Involve them in making amends or repairing the situation.
Not My Child
Bullying does not discriminate. It is happening across race, gender, and socio-economic lines. The wonders of technology have eliminated any boundaries that may have existed in the past. Bullying is no longer solely a face-to-face exchange, it can take place at any time and anywhere. Some sobering facts about bullying from
1 out of 4 kids is bullied
Bullying and cyberbullying are at an all-time high
Suicide has become an alternative for many of those suffering
Approximately 282,000 students are physically attacked in secondary schools each month
Every 7 minutes a child is bullied
Up to 40% of students have been digitally harassed
35% of kids have been threatened online
53% of kids admit to having said mean or hurtful things to another person online
An astounding 58% have not told their parents about being the victim of online bullying
It is often said that the best defense is a strong offense. This phrase is used in many scenarios, including military operations. The idea is that being proactive, rather than passive will catch your opponent off-guard and unable to mount a successful counterattack. In the case of bullying, the strong offense is education and awareness. It is vital to arm children with the proper education about bullying and that parents are aware of those their children interact with.
Bullying is not a part of growing up. Bullying should not be expected or tolerated. In order to smother the flames of this rapidly growing fire, everyone must take an active role. There can’t be any bystanders when children’s lives are at stake.