Did you know that bullying is the most common form of violence in our society? Did you know that younger kids are more likely to be bullied than older kids? And what gets me the most…that 25% of teachers don’t see anything wrong with bullying or put downs and intervene in only a mere 4% of incidents. Over 2/3 of students believe that schools respond poorly to bullying and that adult help is infrequent and ineffective. When adults have the mentality that “kids will be kids” and “kids need to grow tougher skin”, victims feel ashamed to complain. There’s a big problem with all of this. And as a mother to two young boys, I want to be informed about bullying. It’s never too early no matter what age your kids are to know what it looks like, what signs to be on the look out for and what we can teach our children to handle and stop being bullied and to prevent them from becoming one, especially when bullying has completely changed from when we were kids. Our children have to deal with cyberbullying which is a completely new problem since it’s not just on the school ground but also online. It could be anyone targeting our children. If you would like to read more you may want to check out these 51 critical cyber bullying statistics from BroadbandSearch to find out more.
To learn more and in honor of National Bullying Prevention Month, I recently interviewed school psychologist Sonal Awasthi. Sonal is a PK-12 grade public school psychologist and holds her M.A. in educational psychology, bringing a wealth of knowledge and insight on this topic. She’s also a mother to young girls, ages 3 and 1.
What is bullying?
Bullying can be defined as physical and verbal aggression, harassment and threats that typically involve a power difference between the parties involved and which happens repeatedly over a period of time. When bullying isn’t controlled or curbed it can lead to serious offenses such as physical harm, vandalism or use of weapons. A bully is a child who uses his power or strength to intimidate and force a weaker person to do something they do not want to do. Typically a bully has several risk factors that make him a bully:
• He/she is being bullied
• Abused at home or in the community
• He/she uses his power as a defense mechanism to protect himself/herself
• More often than not bullies tend to be socially well-connected within their peer group
What is not bullying?
• Bullying is not isolated acts of aggression or teasing
• Not liking someone or wanting to play with them
• Excluding someone because you don’t like them
• Having kids who are ‘bossy’ towards other kids since they want to play a game a certain way
• Arguments between two kids
• All of the items listed above have one thing in common: there is an equal distribution of power play at hand. Bullying typically involves an unequal distribution of power between parties involved
What are the different types of bullying?
• or pushing
• making racist, sexist or homophobic remarks
• or verbal abuse
• rumor spreading
• destroying one’s reputation or social acceptance
• excluding someone
• using social networking sites
• text messages to destroy someone’s reputation
Describe kids which are typically bullied.
This child is usually passive, has overprotective parents, is seeking social approval and will not complain if bullied.
What age does bullying begin?
Statistics indicate physical bullying increases in elementary school, peaks in middle school and declines in high school. Verbal abuse on the other hand, remains constant. Typically if you perceive a preschooler to show bullying tendencies there may be other psychological concerns at hand such as ADHD or autism.
Is bullying different for girls vs boys? How so?
Bullying in boys tend to be overt and physically aggressive in nature. This is when you see boys engage in many fights. However, amongst girls, bullying tends to be covert and verbally aggressive. An example of this would be spreading rumors or socially excluding someone.
What signs can a parent look out for?
• Unexplainable injuries or destroyed clothing, books, electronics, or jewelry
• Low self-esteem
• Feeling sick or faking illness
• Changes in eating habits, like suddenly skipping meals or emotional eating. Kids may come home from school hungry because they did not eat lunch.
• Difficulty sleeping or frequent nightmares
• Declining grades, loss of interest in school work, or not wanting to go to school
• Avoidance of social situations or loss of friends
• Self-destructive behaviors such as running away from home, harming themselves, or talking about suicide
Who should we tell our children to go to when they are bullied?
Children should be trained to go to their classroom teacher, counselor or principal when bullied. Sometimes talking to an older peer (older sibling who attends the same school) can help.
Why don’t a lot of children tell anyone?
They are usually afraid that the bullying will increase and there is a feeling of social isolation or embarrassment that can occur if the child discloses. Also it can sometimes make the child feel helpless, that no one cares about them. Sometimes the child may feel that they are being judged.
What are some ways to have a conversation about bullying with your child or help your child learn positive behavior?
• Encourage your child to participate in activities that boost their confidence and help them foster a strong social circle
• Talk to them about bullying and learn about their interactions with their peers
• Kids learn from adults so model behavior of respect, understanding and healthy stress management
• Provide positive feedback to children for appropriate social behaviors and model interactions that do not include bullying or aggression.
If you know your child is being bullied, what should you do as a parent?
• Notify school staff (classroom teacher would be a primary contact followed by the counselor/school psychologist or principal)
• Have your child learn to firmly stand his/her ground and say stop to the bully (after all the bully thrives on intimidation)
• Help your child find an ally or friend (create play dates with this child after school)
• Learn about the specific bullying incidents and who was involved
• Request a change of classroom or different school in the district if need be
How can I teach my child to stand up for a friend who is being bullied?
• Have your child speak up for the victim
• Have your child include the victim in activities
• Have your child report the incident to an adult
• Assure your child that by speaking up they are doing the right thing and help them understand bullies often thrive on intimidation
What are the lasting effects for bullied children?
The victim is usually scarred for years to come. Self-esteem can suffer for many years ahead into adulthood. Also children bullied in elementary or middle school can turn into a bully themselves in high school or turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms. Academics can also suffer as a result of bullying.
What can prevent bullying?
Awareness of bullying within the school and community. Creating an environment where there is zero tolerance towards bullying behavior and teaching social acceptance and respect for all. Early social skills training and positive interactions help prevent bullying.