Unless you’ve directly experienced bullying, you may not realize just how devastating it can be, especially to a child or teenager. Besides causing deep hurt, bullying can leave anyone feeling frightened, angry, depressed, and totally undermined. Bullying should never be tolerated, and whether you’re the one being bullied, or you’re a teacher or parent who thinks a child is being bullied or engaged in bullying behavior, there are steps you can take to deal with the problem.
According to a study done by the National Center for Educational Statistics in 2015, one out of every four students report being bullied during the school year; 64 percent of children being bullied did not report it, and only 36 percent did.
Bullies tend to pick on people who are “different” or don’t fit in with the mainstream. It may be because of how a person dresses, acts, or their race, religion, or sexual orientation. It may simply be that a person is new to the school or neighborhood and hasn’t made friends yet.
What is Bullying?
In recent years, the stories of bullying amongst children and teens have flooded our media outlets. But what exactly is it?
Bullying is repeated aggressive behavior that can be physical, verbal, or relational. Boys frequently bully using physical threats and actions, while girls are more likely to engage in verbal or relationship bullying. But, the results are similar:
- You are made to feel hurt, angry, afraid, helpless, isolated, ashamed, and even guilty that the bullying is somehow your fault. You may even feel suicidal.
- Your physical health is likely to suffer, and you are at a greater risk of developing mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, or adult onset PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).
- You’re likely to miss, skip, or drop out of school to avoid being bullied.
The most damaging aspect of bullying is its repetition. Bullies are often relentless – bullying over and over for long periods of time. The victim may live in constant fear of where and when the bully will strike next, what they’ll do, and how far they’ll go.
Signs Your Child is Being Bullied
“There are many warning signs that may indicate that someone is affected by bullying. Recognizing the signs are an important first step in taking action against bullying because not all children who are bullied ask for help,” says Kahanaaloha Kuikahi-Duncan, Clinical Psychology, PhD.
Some of the warning signs include:
- Changes or problems in appetite and sleep
- Not wanting to go to school
- Avoiding social situations
- Isolating themselves when in public (i.e., walking around school by themselves, sitting in places where others are unable to find them)
- Frequent complaints of headaches, stomach aches, or feeling sick
- A display of overly anxious or saddened feelings that can increase on Sunday evenings
Understanding Why Kids Bully
“There are five main reasons why kids bully others and it usually stems from their own insecurities,” says Dr. Kuikahi-Duncan. “Kids will bully because they’re jealous, to make themselves popular, to look tough or feel powerful because they’re being bullied themselves and/or to escape their own problems. As parents, it’s important to recognize where this negative behavior is coming from and how you can help if your child is being targeted.”
Bullying is often a learned behavior where the bully can learn aggressive behavior from their experiences at home. For example, as a parent, you may be setting a bad example for your kids by displaying bullying behavior such as:
- Abusing your child’s sports coach or members of the opposing team
- Swearing at other drivers on the road
- Humiliating a waitress, shop assistant, or cab driver who makes a mistake
- Talking negatively about other students, parents, or teachers so that your child thinks it’s acceptable to use verbal abuse to intimidate others
“Some other factors to consider are that bullying thrives in schools where faculty and staff don’t address it, where there is no policy against it, and where there is little supervision of students, especially during lunch, bathroom breaks, and recess,” says Dr. Kuikahi-Duncan. “Models of bullying behavior are quite prevalent throughout our society, especially in television, movies, and video games. And, when children are aggregated together, they associate with others who are similar to them or have qualities or characteristics that, in some way, support their own behaviors.”
Is Your Child a Bully?
It can come as a shock to a parent to learn that their child is a bully and the profile for bullies is diverse. Many children who bully others witness bullying behavior at home, while some have been victims of bullying themselves, and others come from homes where bullying has never been practiced.
Here are some warning signs that your child may be a bully:
- Frequently becomes violent with others
- Gets into physical or verbal fights with others
- Gets sent to the principal’s office or detention frequently
- Has extra money or new belongings that cannot be explained
- Is quick to blame others
- Will not accept responsibility for his or her actions
- Has friends who bully others
- Needs to win or be the best at everything
What We Can Do To Battle Bullying
“I encourage parents to spend more quality time with your children to get to know them and help them build strong and appropriate social skills. It’s important to help them manage and cope with emotions and different experiences they are going through. It’s also a good idea for parents to monitor their children’s social media accounts,” says Dr. Kuikahi-Duncan. “If your child is being bullied, he or she should be encouraged to report the bullying immediately to an adult and refrain from being a bully bystander giving bullying an audience.”
As bullying is being given more attention in the media and becoming more common among our youth, bullying awareness should be given more attention. Parents and teachers can engage in anti-bullying tactics and have open discussions with the youth. “If bullying behavior is witnessed, adults should intervene immediately and provide alternative positive ways of behaving. Teaching youth skills of conflict resolution, problem solving, listening, empathy, assertion, and negotiation can be helpful,” says Dr. Kuikahi-Duncan. “As a society, we need to be better at helping our youth understand and accept others who may be different. We need to combat the power imbalance that exists in bullying with the ability to accept, love, and respect every person we meet.”
TYPES OF BULLYING
- Hitting, kicking, or pushing someone – or even just threatening to do it
- Stealing, hiding, or ruining someone’s things
- Hazing, harassment, humiliation. Making someone do things he or she doesn’t want to do.
- Name calling
- Teasing, taunting
- Insulting or otherwise verbally abusing someone
- Refusing to talk to someone
- Excluding someone from groups or activities
- Spreading lies or rumors about someone
- Hazing, harassment, humiliation. Making someone do things he or she doesn’t want to do.
WHAT TO DO
If You Are Being Bullied
- Don’t Blame Yourself. It’s not your fault. No matter what someone says or does, you should not be ashamed of who you are or what you feel.
- Be Proud of Who You Are. Despite what a bully says, there are many wonderful things about you. Keep those in mind instead of the messages you hear from bullies.
- Get Help. Talk to a parent, teacher, counselor, or other trusted adult. Seeing a counselor doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you.
- Learn to Deal With Stress. Finding ways to relieve stress can make you more resilient so you won’t feel overwhelmed by bullying. Exercise, meditation, positive self-talk, and breathing exercises are all good ways to manage the stress from bullying.
If Your Child is a Bully
- Learn About Your Child’s Life. If your behavior at home isn’t negatively influencing your child, it’s possible his or her friends/peers are encouraging the bullying behavior.
- Educate Your Child About Bullying. Your child may have difficulty reading social signs or may not understand how hurtful and damaging their behavior can be. Foster empathy and awareness by encouraging your child to look at their actions from the victim’s perspective. Remind your child that bullying can have legal consequences.
- Set Limits With Technology. Let your child know you’ll be monitoring his/her use of computers, emails, text messaging, and social media. Limit the amount of time they spend playing video games and watching television.
- Manage Stress. Teach your child positive ways to manage stress. Your child’s bullying may be an attempt at relieving stress. Or your own stress, anxiety, or worry may be creating an unstable home environment. Exercise, spending time in nature, or playing with a pet are great ways for both kids and adults to let off steam and relieve stress.
- Establish Consistent Rules of Behavior. Make sure your child understands your rules and the punishment for breaking them. Children may not think they need discipline, but a lack of boundaries sends a signal that the child is unworthy or the parents’ time, care, and attention.