By Lisa Caplan
With school underway, 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 oftentimes 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 effects 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 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:
- Name calling
- Spreading rumors
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
- Hair pulling
- Any interference with someone’s property for example stealing or damaging their property
Sexual includes any behavior that targets someone because of their gender and involves unwelcome sexual behavior, including:
- Unwanted physical contact
- Sexual comments
Steps to take if your child or teen witnesses another child 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 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:
- Low self-esteem
- Sleep problems
- Illnesses due to anxiety and 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.
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