||Understanding Bullying - What a parent can do to support their child
Your seventh grade daughter’s behavior and moods have changed dramatically over the course of the past few months. At the first of the school year, she was outgoing, used to talk and hangout with her girls friends and did well with her school work. Now you notice that she rarely leaves her bedroom, doesn’t join in with any of those Saturday mall excursions with her peers and her grades took a deep dive this last quarter.
During a conversation with your teen, as she is lying across the bed, she talks how life is not worth living; there is no place for someone like her. Now all the red flags are flying! What’s going on in her world to make her feel so sad and disconnected?
Youth victimized by bullying behaviors can suffer devastating effects to their mental and physical health. A study completed in 2004 showed that children who self reported being bullied were three times as likely as other children to suffer from headaches. Nearly half of the bullied children reported sleep problems and 49% screened in with moderate indication of depression. Other effects of bullying are higher absenteeism, lower school achievement, suicidal ideation and sometimes completion of suicide. For us to be able to help our children, let’s talk about what bullying is and explore how we can best help them.
The universally accepted definition of bullying was authored by Dr. Dan Olweus, University of Bergen, Norway. It reads:
“Bullying is when someone repeatedly and on purpose
says or does mean or hurtful things to another person who has a hard time defending himself or herself.”
The three key components of bullying behavior:
- Involves an aggressive behavior
- Typically involves a pattern of behavior repeated over time
- Involves an imbalance of power or strength
Bullying behaviors can vary. Physical bullying behaviors can include pushing, shoving, hitting, kicking and more. Emotional and non-verbal bullying can include name calling, teasing, rumors, social exclusion, racial, sexual, threats, and cyberbullying. When surveying youth, the predominant form of bullying they report is verbal. And we know that the old adage of “Stick and stones may break your bones” really does not apply; those hurtful words can last forever.
Some helpful tips for parents of children who are being bullied include:
- Never tell your child to ignore the bullying.
- Don’t blame your child for the bullying. Don’t assume your child did something to provoke the bullying.
- Allow your child to talk about his or her bullying experiences. Write down what is shared.
- Empathize with your child. Tell him or her that bullying is wrong, that it is not his or her fault, and that you are glad he or she had the courage to tell you about it.
- If you disagree with how your child handled the bullying situation, don’t criticize him or her. It is often very difficult for children to know how best to respond.
- Do not encourage physical retaliation.
- Check your emotions. A parent’s protective instincts stir strong emotions. Although it is difficult, step back and consider the next steps carefully.
- Contact a teacher, school counselor, or principal at your school immediately and share your concerns about the bullying that your child has experienced. and work closely with school personnel to help solve the problem.
- Encourage your child to develop interests and hobbies that will help build resiliency in difficult situations like bullying.
- Encourage your child to make contact with friendly students in his or her class, or help your child meet new friends outside of school.
- Teach your child safety strategies, such as how to seek help from an adult.
- If you or your child need additional help, seek help from a school counselor and/or mental health professional.
We have talked about the harmful effects on kids being bullied, but what about the welfare of the youth who have bullied others? Unless adults intervene with a child’s behavior, their bullying behaviors may continue into adulthood. Youth engaged in bullying are more likely to participate in other juvenile delinquent behaviors such as fighting, stealing or vandalizing property, alcohol and other drug activity, or carry a weapon. A study completed by Dr. Olweus showed that children who bully are 4 times as likely to have 3 or more criminal convictions by the age of 24. Understanding the path that bullying can lead kids down, our local juvenile court judge supports bullying prevention programs in schools; he sees this as a way to reduce the number of youth that will come into court, due to delinquent behaviors.
While roughly 40% of our youth in schools are experiencing bullying behaviors as victims or perpetrators, this leaves a large number of youth that are not directly involved. But, the question is, don’t these bullying events affect them as well? Most kids know what is going on around them. How they choose to respond to the bullying behavior can vary. Some youth side up with the student doing the bullying, perhaps to avoid becoming a victim themselves. A few individuals have the self-confidence to stand up to the bullying youth and help those being targeted. But most of the bystanders don’t act on behalf of the victimized student. These youth may feel:
- Afraid of retaliation - they may be next!
- Powerless to change the situation - they may not feel the support of their peers or the adults
- Guilty for not acting
- A diminished empathy for victims over time
So it’s important that we address bullying for the benefit of ALL students, whether they are the victim, perpetrator or bystander of these hurtful events.
This information and more for parents, youth, and school staff can be found on two great websites. Please visit the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program and Stop Bullying Now websites to help you and your community’s children in being safer.
The author of this article is Donna Dickman of the Partnership for Violence Free Families and the ACT Program Coordinator in Lima, OH and a certified trainer for the Olweus Bullying program.