We have all read the horror stories of children being bullied, harmed and often to such a degree they take their own lives. The most recent Amanda Todd.
Bullying can start as early as preschool, but typically the age group most susceptible and targeted is 9-15. Most bullying occurs at school. A whopping 70% of children in middle school have been victims or have witnessed bullying and 5th-12th graders are more concerned about emotional and social cruelty than anything else.
Factor into that, most kids don’t what to admit to their parents or any adult they are being bullied for fear of appearing weak or worse retaliation.
As parents and adults what can we do? Plenty.
First, of course, it’s imperative to be aware of how pervasive this problem is and continues to be. Then, keep close guard on your children.
Signs to look for:
Not wanting to attend school
Loss of appetite
Not wanting to attend birthday parties or other school events
Children often feel they are being tattle tales if they complain to teachers or parents. They have an idea they deserve this treatment and by withstanding it, they will somehow be accepted by the bully.
What the parent can do:
Being direct often does not work. By asking a child if they are being bullied or teased, they often say no. They do not want to be embarrassed, harassed or bullied further.
Instead, there are more indirect ways to approach children:
Ask them who there friends are.
Ask them what they do during recess and lunch.
Ask about the ups and downs about their day; often times they will open up about one particular person that is bothering them.
Walk them to school.
When your child confides in you, this is a perfect time to open up the lines of communication.
This is not the time to suggest fighting back. Instead, gather more information, provide your child with tools, reassure them you are protecting them and then contact the school.
Forms of bullying:
Daring or making someone do something they do not want to do
Spreading lies and rumors
Who is a bully?
From the outside, they can be big, small, rich or poor. But the underlying theme is the bully is insecure and wants to make other people feel bad so they will feel better. They often come from homes where there is abuse passed onto them, either from a parent or an older sibling.
They have possibly watched their parents “get their way” by bullying others.
They are treated by their parents as special, and believe they deserve to have anything they want.
They are getting exposed to a lot of violence through TV, video games or movies.
There is also the bully that is nice to the child when they are alone, but in groups this same person will tease or ignore them out of peer pressure. This can be devastating to a child who thought this person was their friend.
Who is a target?
Often this is superficial, such as a person’s appearance, such as size or race or a child having a disability.
Possibly there is something about the person that makes them stand out, making their appearance different than the bullies, often if just the way they dress.
Dressing a certain way, particularly among girls, can create ample opportunity for teasing. Or exclusion.
Children that get anxious, upset or have big emotions. These kids are targets because bullies know they will get a response.
Children that don’t have a lot of friends and tend to stick to themselves. Again, bullies realize they won’t have many friends coming to their aid.
Children lacking in confidence and are not able to stand up for themselves. This is a dream target for a bully as it can go on for long periods of time particularly if the child does not get help in bolstering their self-esteem.
How to Handle It:
As said, bullying is a serious problem. It can make kids feel alone, unwanted and afraid. It makes them feel like there is something wrong with them.
Suggest a few of these behaviors to your child or a child you suspect is being bullied.
Ignore the bully. Walk right by them.
Do not react, cry, engage or be upset, as that is what the bully is seeking.
If they continue to harass the child, run. Find an adult and report the bully.
If the child does not have a parental figure, find an adult on campus, a teacher, counselor or even another parent of a trusted friend.
Avoid being alone.
It’s important for victims of bullies to write down their feelings; most likely anger, sadness, self-loathing and shame; whatever comes up. At the same time, kids can write down how the bully makes them feel. This is where a parent can help because these feelings are not real.
Bullies are clever when it comes to instilling harmful words into a child’s mind, typically superficial. Ugly, stupid, loser, and so on.
Parents can help their children not only with open communication, but through books that explain what a bully is, thereby separating the truth from the lies.
By journaling children can write down both the negative and positive. Here is where a parent can emphasize the positive by helping build the child’s self-esteem by keeping track of all their good qualities. This can also lead to opening doors for acitivites the child might enjoy, often leading to better people outside the school.
Opening up the social world is a helpful tool. Children will begin to recognize what it feels like to be treated like a peer outside the pressures of school.
Most importantly, it is essential for your child to understand their differences are what makes them special, unique and lovable and should be celebrated, not discouraged.
A strong family unit that is filled with love and support will give a child a sense of safety. It’s important to do things as a family to reinforce this bound whenever possible. The strength from the family will weaken any slings and arrows coming from a bully. Strong values and family ties are ultimately the best defense. Nonetheless, children often get caught up in school yard politics.
Bullying has become epidemic in this country and the internet has exasperated the problem. Verbal abuse is as devastating as physical, and written abuse even more so, especially when hundreds of people can read it online. This often makes a child feel completely alone; as though the entire world is conspiring against them.
Cyber bullying is insidious for many reasons, one being kids generally have no idea where the abuse is coming from. Here again, many times parents have no clue what is happening to their children who are online. Parents must keep close guard regarding their children and the Internet. This is a problem that is only getting worse with time.
Here is a great website that covers all the information regarding bullying in all it’s forms, along with instructions and phone numbers if bullying becomes a concern. It’s great resource to have for any parent.
As adults it is our responsibility to be as informed as possible, have our own tools readily available so we can help the kids fight the bully epidemic as they make their journey through school. In surviving this landmine, they will emerge as stronger adults.