A mother discovers her son hasn’t eaten lunch for some time even though she’s sent in lunch money every day. He’s been threatened with physical violence if he doesn’t give another boy the money. The parents of a girl are worried when she suddenly stops wanting to go to school on days when she has physical education. The other girls tease her and hide her clothes.
These children—and thousands of others—are the victims of bullying. Today, we know that bullying can’t be dismissed by saying “Kids will be kids.” Unless parents and schools work together, children can be hurt. This article tells parents what they need to know about the tough issue of bullying.
What Is Bullying?
“Bullying” is another name for harassment. It can take many forms, such as pushing, kicking, hitting and threatening. It can include name-calling, humiliation, sarcasm and spreading rumors. Now technology gives kids more ways to bully others.
Bullying can have serious, long-term emotional effects. It is not simply “kids being kids.” Bullying affects all aspects of children’s lives, including their ability to learn.
How Do I Know Whether My Child Is Being Bullied?
Bullies can target just about anybody for a number of reasons, but kids who are habitually bullied tend to be those who already have lower self-esteem. These are the children who don’t try to make the situation better because they somehow think they deserve to be picked on.
Children are often reluctant to talk to parents about being bullied. They think complaining about bullying will make them look weak or invite more harassment from bullies.
If you suspect that your child is being bullied:
Observe your child. Bullying victims often start avoiding school. Their grades may drop. They may withdraw from activities. The stress may cause frequent stomachaches, headaches, panic attacks or difficulty sleeping. Their self-esteem may plummet, or they may take out their frustration on others.
Talk and listen. Encourage your child to tell you about what goes on in school or at other activities. Ask about the trip to and from school.
What if My Child Is a Victim of Bullying?
Some parents tell their children to strike back at bullies. That usually creates more problems than it solves. Here are some better solutions for parents:
Provide an emotional refuge. Hold her when she cries. Let her know that she is not to blame and that no one should have to put up with bullying. Keep your child involved in finding a solution, but make sure you are taking action.
Discuss with your child how to avoid situations in which bullying often occurs. It might be easy to take a different route or avoid doing something that draws the attention of bullies.
Give your child some ways to respond to bullies. Help your child develop ways to stand up for herself without losing her temper. Your child might:
- Try to ignore the bully.
- Say NO firmly, turn and walk away.
- Try not to show that she is angry or upset.
- Decide with school officials whether to contact law enforcement authorities.
- Let the school know. Keep a record of the times your child is bullied. Save harassing emails, text messages, etc. Make sure school officials know about these incidents at once.
- Find a new activity for your child that will allow her to focus on things she likes or does well and get her together with people who aren’t connected with her bullying problems.
What If My Child Is a Bystander?
Peers often know that a child is being bullied before any adults do. Tell your child that bystanders need to act. Ignoring the problem won’t make it go away and may lead the bully to think that bystanders support what he is doing. Share these dos and don’ts for bystanders with your child:
- Persuade the victim to tell an adult.
- Or offer to tell an adult for the victim.
- Let the bully know that you disapprove of what he is doing. Tell him that you are on the victim’s side and that you’ll stand up for the victim.
- Don’t use violence against the bully—you may get hurt or even be blamed for being a bully yourself.
- Don’t try to handle the situation by yourself. Talk to a responsible adult.
Facts About Bullies
Both boys and girls bully, usually same-sex classmates. Boys often use physical force, threats and ridicule. Girls often use more subtle ways such as spreading rumors or excluding others.
Bullies at school are often victims at home.
Experts say bullies experience more punitive, hostile, and abusive treatment at home than their peers.
Sixty percent of boys identified as bullies during middle school had at least one criminal conviction by the age of 24. Forty percent had three or more convictions by the same age.
Bullies don’t usually act alone. They are often part of a group where intimidating others establishes group identity, dominance and status. Bullies often depend on bystander “assistant bullies” and “reinforcer bullies” in the group for support.
What Should I Do if I Think My Child Is a Bully?
If you suspect your child is a bully, take action right away:
Talk with your child about the behavior you expect. Be a role model. Make it clear that your family does not tolerate behavior that hurts other people physically or emotionally.
Avoid physical punishments. There is evidence they may make children more aggressive and encourage bullying. Instead try “time out” or limiting privileges.
Reduce the amount of media violence your child sees. Research suggests that exposure to violent TV programs and video games increases a child’s aggression.
Remember, the school is ready to help. Contact your school principal. Speak to a counselor or find professional help.
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