Bullying – What you need to know to protect your kids
Years ago, the bully was the big kid who terrorized us during recess or tried to “extort” our lunch and milk money. It was considered a rite of passage and “just a part of growing up”. But bullying has now been characterized as a devastating form of abuse and harassment, and rightfully so.
Today, bullying has become much more pervasive and has taken on new methods that has led, in many cases, to serious physical and mental abuse and even suicide by traumatized victims.
With summer vacation winding down and kids all across the country returning to school, I thought I’d take a look at bullying, and what you can do to protect your children.
What is “Bullying?”
Bullying is defined as any unwanted, aggressive and repeated behavior over time using force or coercion against another to intimidate and/or dominate, either verbally or physically, the bully’s intended target. The “target” is typically is perceived as weaker and more vulnerable than the aggressor.
Kids and teens who bully use their power or perceived power (physical, age, popularity, etc.) to control, intimidate, or harm other kids. Consequences to the victims include low self-esteem, isolation, a feeling of hopelessness and lack of self-worth, physical/medical problems, serious injury, and even suicide. In addition, the victims of bullying are more inclined to use alcohol, tobacco, drugs, and engage in reckless sexual behavior.
Bullying behavior may be motivated as a way to be popular or seem tough, to get attention, to act out of the bully’s own insecurity, to join a group where bullying is part of its culture, and/or jealousy of the victim or they. Many times the bullies themselves have been victimized by other bullies, and in turn perpetuate the cycle.
Bullying can take the following forms:
- Verbal: teasing, name-calling, inappropriate sexual comments, taunting, threats.
- Physical: fighting, hitting, kick- ing, pinching; spitting; tripping, pushing; stealing or destroying possessions (such as text books, clothing, lunch money).
- Emotional: making a victim feel isolated, not wanted, alone; the motivation here is to get many kids to ostracize the person being bullied.
- Cyber Bullying: using the internet, social media sites, and texting to harass, humiliate, embar- rass, threaten or torment a person.
- Gang or “Pack” Bullying: where more than one bully is involved and, in some cases, there are secondary bullies who assist the primary bully in tormenting the victim; this form of bullying is more prevalent in high school.
Researchers found the latest bullying statistics that should make every parent take notice and take appropriate action with their kids and their schools:
Nearly 1 in 3 grammar and middle school students report being bullied during the school year (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2013).
20% of high school students in the US report being bullied at school in the past year. 1 in 12 teenagers will attempt to commit suicide because they were bullied. (Center for Disease Control, 2014)
The reasons for being bullied reported most often by students were looks (55%), body shape (37%), and race (16%) (Davis and Nixon, 2010).
Over 30 % of students admit to bullying classmates and peers (www.bullyingstatistics.org, 2013)
64% of children who were bullied did not report it (Petrosina, Guckenburg, DeVoe, and Hanson, 2010).
75% of school shootings have been linked to harassment and bullying against the shooter.
Not shockingly, students who are bullies as young adults continue the trend of abuse and violence into adulthood. By the age of 30, approximately 40 percent of boys who were identified as bullies in middle school and high school had been arrested three or more times.
Who’s at risk?
Certainly, any school-aged child or teen can find themselves the victim of a bully. No single factor puts a child or teen at risk of being bullied but usually the bully will target anyone who is perceived as “different” from their peers, weak, less popular, quiet or someone who just seems like an easy target. Despite this general statement, there are certain children that are at higher risk:
Teenage bullying is more common among younger teens than older teens. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that there is noticeably more bullying in middle school grades 6, 7 and 8 than in senior high school.
Younger teens will employ physical bullying more often than older teens who use emotional and cyber bullying to torment their victims.
Physical bullying is more common among boys; teenage girls often favor verbal, emotional and cyber bullying.
Boys are more likely to be hit, slapped, pushed and exposed to other types of physical abuse where girls are victimized using social exclusion, rumors and the internet.
Boys are usually only bullied by other boys; while girls report being bullied by both boys and girls.
Kids who are obese, gay or have disabilities are 63% more likely to be bullied than other children; additionally, kids who are very shy, not very popular, “seem” different than the other kids or who are smaller for their age are also prime targets.
In addition, children and teens may be bullied based on other factors, such as gender, race, religion, appearance, clothing, hair style, accent or any characteristic that the bully perceives as different, exploitable or easily targeted.
How can you tell if your child is being bullied?
Warning signs that a child or teen may be experiencing bullying include:
- Becoming withdrawn, sullen, depressed, sad, moody, angry, anxious.
- Marked change in their personality.
- Showing fear when it’s time to go t.o school or avoiding the school bus.
- Going right to their room once they return from school.
- Increased school absences with no explanation or feigning illness.
- Signs of stress including, nightmares, bed wetting, anxiety.
- Signs of depression, including unexplained crying, head aches, loss of sleep, worry or expressed feelings about their self-worth.
- Changes in eating habits.
- Significant decline in grades at school.
- Speaking about someone at school with fear.
- Unexplained physical signs of abuse, including bruises, scratches, limping, etc.
- Loss of or damage to books, electronics, clothing and other personal property or when a child reports mysteriously “losing” possessions, including homework.
- Fewer and fewer friends.
- Wants to stay home all the time.
- Begins bullying siblings or younger kids (this is a common phenomenon where the bullied can become the bully!)
- Talks about feeling helpless; that no one likes him/her; that he/she hates school.
- Threatens to run away or expresses suicidal thoughts.
If you observe any of these warning signs, you should talk to your child immediately. Ask direct questions such as:
“Your cell phone is missing; did someone take that from you?” Or “Your jacket is ripped; did someone do that to you?” Watch your child’s reaction. The non-verbal cues will be much “louder” than what your child says. Tune into their body language. If necessary, ask them if someone is bullying them in school or over the internet.
Tell your child or teen that you are worried about them and ask them if another kid is treating them in a mean or insulting way. Let them know that what they are going through is NOT their fault and they should not be ashamed and that you would like to know so the bullying can stop and other kids aren’t treated the same way by the bully.
If you suspect a bullying situation is going on, call or set up an appointment with your child’s teacher(s), school counselor, or principle to alert them of your concerns. Ask them if they have noticed or suspect that your child is a bully victim. But even a meeting with your child’s teachers may not determine with certainty if bullying has been observed. As a general rule, bullying doesn’t usually happen in school settings or in classrooms under the watchful eyes of the teaching staff.
A lot of it occurs when kids are together or isolated from authority figures – on the playground, on the bus, in the bathroom, walking to and from school or when outside of the school. Find out from your child where the bullying is taking place.
And, of course, if your child’s conditions or symptoms worsen or continue, get the help of a trained mental health professional.
Cyber-bullying is when a child or teen is harassed, humiliated, embarrassed, threatened or tormented using computer technology, such as the internet, chat rooms, social media sites, instant messaging, texting, website postings and blogs.
Cyber-bullying has dramatically increased in recent years since most kids and teens now have computers and cell phones. (Did you know that 83% of kids and teenagers use cell phones?). One in five teens will become a victim of cyber-bullying. Research has indicated that cyber-bullying has become more common than traditional bullying, especially among girls (who are twice as likely to be bullied as boys). Many cyber-bullies take advantage of technology to harass their victims anonymously.
In a 2013 survey conducted by www.dosomething.org, 43% of kids have been bullied on line with 1 in 4 kids bullied repeatedly. 70% of students report seeing frequent bullying online with 75% of students admitting to visiting a website that bashed another student!
This form of harassment can be devastating for the victim due to the number of other kids and teens that can review and comment on the messages that have been sent. Unlike bullying at school, cyber-bullying can take place 24 hours a day, even at home, which is the one place kids used to find safe refuge from bullying behavior.
Cyber-bullying messages and images can be distributed quickly to a wide audience. Cyber-bullying can have a serious psychological impact on a victim and carry over to the real world. Recently, several suicides were reported in the news motivated by cyber-bullying.
Here are some tips to help prevent and manage cyber-bullying:
- Let your kids know that as a responsible parent, you will review their on-line communications on a regular basis.
- Consider installing parental control filtering software or monitoring programs on your child’s computer.
- Ask to “friend” or “follow” your kids on social media sites or ask another trusted adult to do so.
- Establish rules about appropriate use of computers, cell phones and other technology and the consequences if they break the rules.
- Educate them on how to be smart about what they post or say.
- Encourage kids to think about who they want to see information and the pictures they post on-line. Should complete strangers see it? Think about how people who are not your friends can use it.
- Keep passwords safe and tell your child never to share these with friends.
- If text bullying takes place and it is serious, notify the cell phone company to get a new number and report the bullying.
What Parents Can Do
If you child is a victim of bullying, there are steps you as a parent can take to protect your child.
Talk to your child at an early age about bullying; what it means; why it’s wrong and what your child should do if they become a victim.
Get to know your child’s friends.
Ask your child every day how school went.
Let them know it is not acceptable to be a bully and point this type of behavior out if you see it on TV or the movies; discuss why it’s wrong and ask how the child would feel if they were put in the same situation.
Many bully’s learn their behavior from their parents, so watch what you say and the actions you take with others.
As I have mentioned earlier, it’s important to stress with your child that if they are bullied, it is not their fault.
Give your child a sustained feeling of self-worth; that they should be proud of being exactly who they are.
Instruct your child that it’s OK to stand up to a bully; many times a bully lacks self-esteem and will back-off if an intended “victim” does not submit to the bullying behavior.
If a child is bullied, they need to tell you right away and not ignore it. Bullying is WRONG even if it occurs once and needs to be stopped immediately before it can get out of hand.
Consider role-playing with the child. Present a hypothetical bully situation and see how your child would respond. Guide the child on the best way of handling so they are prepared.
In the case of a cyber-bully attack, instruct your child to save the email, text or posting. If it is in any way sexual or threatening in nature, you should report it to the police, contact the social media site, and immediately block the person who is cyber-bullying your child.
Avoid some common mistakes:
Unfortunately, parents sometimes take the wrong approach when their child is bullied. Studies have found that these mistakes not only don’t help, but many times make the situation worse.
Never tell your child to ignore the bullying or just to “suck it up”.
Don’t blame the child for being bullied.
Don’t force kids to say publicly what they saw, especially in front of other kids.
Resist the urge to contact the other parents; it may make matters worse; use school officials to act as mediators between you and the parents of the bully.
What Can Your Child Do
Get involved with school activities, such as volunteering, playing sports, joining a club; this gives kids a chance to have fun, meet others and have a positive outlet.
Make friends at school: bullies target isolated individuals and friends help insulate each other from bullying behavior
Speak up: tell the bully what they are doing is wrong.
Be a friend: sometimes kids get picked on because they don’t have any friends or anyone to stand up to them. When a kid befriends someone being bullied, the bully is less likely to pick on them; friendship breeds confidence.
Tell someone: bullies get away with their behavior when they feel they can continue without consequences; children should immediately report bullying to their parents or teacher.
”Talk the talk” without walking it: by treating others with respect and kindness and not engaging in bullying behavior yourself, your kids will learn how to properly treat their peers and others. You be their role model!
Some More Facts:
Bullying happens not only to children, but to people of all ages and all walks of life. Some of the most disturbing statistics I found came from a survey conducted by the popular job search website, CareerBuilder.com. That survey reported that:
35 % of the workers surveyed claimed that they had been bullied at their workplaces
16 % of those surveyed said they suffered from health problems caused by this bullying
17 % of survey respondents said that, despite the terrible economy, they were forced to quit because of bullying.
50% of workers bullied never reported the bullying behavior to their supervisor or HR department
And a recent NBC News poll reported that the bullying statistics involving senior citizens is on the rise in the US, where 1 in 10 seniors are verbally or physically abused.
For more information visit the following websites:
Stay safe out there!
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