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 often times suicidal – not knowing whom to turn to in fear that the bullying will get worse.

Whether your child is in elementary school or high school, we all need to understand that there are many 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:

  • Religion
  • Race
  • Appearance
  • Behavior (e.g., shyness)
  • Disability
  • Perceived sexual orientation

Whatever the reason, bullying is a way for the bully to feel in control and often is a way for the bully to hide their own (internal) weakness. Bullying can take many forms including:

  • Verbal: includes talking to someone or about someone in a way that is hurtful or unkind, for example:

    • Taunting
    • Sarcasm
    • Teasing
    • Name calling
    • Spreading rumors
    • Gossiping
  • Emotional: includes behaviors that exclude, upset or embarrass someone including:
    • Cyber bullying uses technology to send cruel emails, instant messages, or postings to humiliate, torment or embarrass someone
  • Physical: includes:

    • Tripping
    • Hitting
    • Hair pulling
    • Biting
    • Kicking
    • Shoving
    • Any interference with someone’s property for example stealing or damaging their property
  • Sexual bullying includes any behavior that targets someone because of their gender and involves unwelcomed sexual behavior including:
    • Unwanted physical contact
    • Sexual comments

Steps to take to help your child or teen who is being bullied:

  • Teach through example: Children and teens pay a lot more attention to their parents’ behavior then 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
  • Teach them to be aware of their surroundings so they can notice and avoid potential problems.
  • Assertively telling someone to “stop”
  • Standing up tall
  • Asking, in a confident manner, to join a group playing a game or finding someone else to play with
  • Learning how to interrupt a busy adult and being assertive to ask for help • Notifying the school of the bullying

Steps to take if your child or teen witnesses another kid being bullied:

  • Teach your children and teens to stand up to bullying and not ignore what they see (e.g., 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 to do if you think your child is being a bully?

  • Don’t panic. Children bully for many reasons including: 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 with you.
  • 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 effects of bullying

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Low self-esteem
  • Sleep problems
  • Illnesses due to anxiety and stress
  • Headaches
  • 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.

This Tip Sheet has been written by Lisa Caplan. Lisa is a Licensed Certified Social Worker at the clinical level (LCSW-C) and a Certified Addictions Counselor (CAC). She has over 15 years experience in her field, and extensive experience working with lawyers and judges in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and trauma.

For Assistance

Please contact the Lawyer Assistance Program for free, confidential assistance. Jim Quinn, Lawyer Assistance Director, 443.703.3041, jquinn@msba.org; Lisa Caplan, LCSW-C, CAC, Lawyer Assistance Counselor, 443.703.3042, lcaplan@msba.org. Toll free 800.492.1964

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