With school under way, bullying is a topic that many parents and kids are talking about.
Each year, thousands of children and teens are on the receiving end of bullying, causing them to be afraid to go to school, walk the halls alone, and participate in after school activities. These children often feel helpless, vulnerable, isolated, and at times suicidal; they get lost in fear that the bullying will get worse.
Whether your child is in elementary school or high school, we all need to understand the different forms of bullying and how severe bullying can become. Every child deserves a safe learning environment. Educating yourself on bullying and the long term affects it can have on a child or teen is the first step in stopping it.
What is Bullying?
Bullying can occur in any social environment but occurs most often among school age children. It involves unwanted aggressive behavior, where a person is picked on repeatedly by an individual or group. It involves a real or perceived power imbalance, typically in the form of physical strength or social standing.
A bully targets someone they see as weak or different. Some reasons someone might be bullied include:
- Behavior (e.g. shyness)
- Perceived sexual orientation
Whatever the reason, bullying is a way for the bully to feel in control, and often it’s a way for the bully to hide their own internal weakness.
Bullying takes many forms. Verbal bullying is talking to someone or about someone in a way that is hurtful or unkind. That includes taunting, sarcasm, teasing, name calling, and spreading rumors or gossip.
Emotional bullying includes behaviors that exclude, upset, or embarrass someone. Cyber bullying uses technology to send cruel emails or instant messages, or post information so to humiliate, torment, or embarrass someone.
Physical bullying includes tripping, hitting, hair pulling, biting, kicking, shoving, and any interference with someone’s property (e.g. stealing or damaging their property).
Sexual bullying includes any behavior that targets someone because of their gender and/or involves unwelcomed sexual behavior, including unwanted physical contact and unwanted sexual comments.
What If Your Child or Teen is Being Bullied?
- Teach through example. Children and teens pay a lot more attention to their parents’ behavior than we think. If you treat people with respect and stand up for yourself and others in an appropriate but assertive way, you will be modeling healthy behavior to your child.
- Don’t lecture. Give your child an opportunity to practice talking to adults, managing difficult situations, and being assertive.
- Role play with your child to practice these skills.
- Educate them to be aware of their surroundings so they can notice and avoid potential problems.
- Practice assertively telling someone, “Stop.”
- Have them stand up tall.
- Teach them to ask, in a confident manner, to join a group playing a game or finding someone else to play with.
- Practice learning how to interrupt a busy adult and being assertive to ask for help.
- Notify the school.
What If Your Child Witnesses Someone Being Bullied?
- Teach your children and teens to stand up to bullying; do not become ignorant when they see others being bullied.
- Teach your child to evaluate the situation. For example is the bullying putting someone in danger? Is a child being left out or did someone say something hurtful? Each situation may need to be handled differently.
- Teach your child to make choices on how to handle the situation depending on what it is. You can practice by giving your child scenarios and practicing what to say or do. For example, they can speak up and advocate for the child or get help.
- Help your child practice what they may want to say. For example, “Stop, that is a very hurtful thing to say.” Or “The rule is everyone can play the game.” If someone is in danger the best action would be to get help.
What If You Think Your Child is Being a Bully?
- Don’t panic. Children bully for many reasons, such as testing boundaries, insecurities, needing to feel in control, or possibly an underlying mental health problem.
- Listen to what your child has to say and thank them for sharing.
- Share openly and honestly any information that you have heard about their bullying.
- Don’t lecture. If your child can’t trust you or your lecturing to them, they won’t feel safe to come and talk with you again.
- Be aware of your own behavior, prejudices, and opinions. Children watch and listen to their parents and tend to model their behavior.
- In a supportive manner share your feelings about bullying.
- Talk with your child about how to end the bullying.
- Talk with a professional.
Long Term Affects of Bullying
- Low self-esteem
- Sleep problems
- Illnesses due to anxiety or stress
- Higher rate of substance abuse
- Difficulty making friends and uncomfortable in social situations
Bullies also experience long term problems. Statistically the bully has a higher rate of being involved in criminal behavior and can also suffer from higher rates of mental health and substance abuse.
If you would like more information on bullying, please contact the Lawyer Assistance Program for free, confidential counseling. Jim Quinn, LAP Director, can be reached at (443) 703-3041 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Lisa Caplan, Program Counselor, can be reached at (443) 703-3042 or email@example.com.
Lisa Caplan, LCSW-C, CAC, is Program Counselor for the MSBA Lawyer Assistance Program.