Bullying may seem insignificant compared to kids bringing guns to school or getting involved with sex, drugs, and alcohol at exponentially younger ages. Bullying is often dismissed as part of growing up. But it’s actually a precursor to aggressive, violent behavior. Statistics show that one in four children who bully will have a criminal record before the age of 30.
Bullies often cause serious problems that schools, families, and neighbors ignore. Teasing at bus stops, taking a child’s lunch money, hurling insults and threats, kicking or shoving—it’s all fair game to a bully. Children who have fears and anxieties about bullies may avoid school, carry a weapon for protection, react violently, or even commit suicide. Here is what you need to know about bullying in order to protect your child.
What is bullying like in the 21st Century?
Bullying in the 21st century looks much different than bullying in years past. What used to be fists flying at the flagpole in front of a small crowd after school is now often the exchange of tactless words between strangers on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. A bully might post embarrassing pictures or videos of his or her victims across social media platforms, where large crowds of peers may see them. Cyberbullying gives bullies much bigger audiences.
With the sophistication of social networks, the shame tends to be felt much deeper. When nasty messages and unattractive photos are sent through cellphones, they may reemerge later, along with the anxiety and depression that comes with being bullied. Bullying today is exacerbated by the Internet. Victims of cyberbullying are more likely to commit suicide than kids not bullied online. Online bullies themselves are found to be more likely to commit suicide than other kids.
Who are the victims?
Although anyone can be a bully’s target, the victim is often singled out because of psychological traits more than for physical traits. A typical victim is likely to be shy, sensitive, and perhaps anxious or insecure. Some children are picked on for physical reasons, such as being overweight or physically small, having a disability, or belonging to a different race or religious faith.
Who are the bullies?
Some bullies are outgoing, aggressive, active, and expressive. They get their way by brute force or openly harassing someone. This type of bully rejects rules and regulations and needs to rebel to achieve a feeling of superiority and security. Other bullies are more reserved and manipulative and may not want to be recognized as harassers or tormentors. They try to control by smooth-talking, saying the “right” thing at the “right” time, and lying. This type of bully gets his or her power discreetly, through cunning, manipulation, and deception.
As different as these two types may seem, all bullies have some characteristics in common. They’re concerned with their own pleasure. They want power over others. They are willing to use and abuse other people to get what they want. They feel pain inside, perhaps because of their own shortcomings. And they find it difficult to see things from someone else’s perspective.
What can parents do?
Listen to your child. Encourage children to talk about school, social events, other kids in class, their walk or ride to and from school, so you can identify any problems they may be having. Take their complaints about bullying seriously. Probing a seemingly minor complaint may uncover more severe grievances.
Watch for signs that your child may be a victim of bullying: withdrawal, a drop in grades, torn clothes, or needing extra money or supplies. Tell the school or organization immediately if you think your children are being bullied. Alerted caregivers can monitor your children’s actions carefully and take steps to ensure their safety.
Watch for signs that your child may be a victim of bullying: withdrawal, a drop in grades, torn clothes, or needing extra money or supplies.
Work with other parents to ensure that the children in your neighborhood are supervised closely on their way to and from school.
Don’t bully your kids yourself, physically or verbally. Use nonphysical, consistently enforced discipline measures as opposed to ridiculing, yelling at, or ignoring your children when they misbehave.
Help children learn the social skills they need to make friends. A confident, resourceful child who has friends is less likely to be bullied or to bully others. Praise children’s kindness toward others. Let children know that kindness is valued.
Teach children ways to resolve arguments without violent words or actions. Teach children self-protection skills—how to walk confidently, stay alert to what’s going on around them, and to stand up for themselves verbally.
Provide opportunities for children to talk about bullying, perhaps when watching TV together, reading aloud, playing a game, or going to the park or a movie.
Recognize that bullies may be acting out feelings of insecurity, anger, or loneliness. If your child is a bully, help get to the root of the problem. Seek out specific strategies you can use at home from a teacher, school counselor, or child psychologist.
How have you or members of your family dealt with a recent bullying experience?