Bullying is a fairly common experience in the United States–approximately 20% of kids aged 12 to 18 years old experience bullying nationwide. Whether bullying occurs at school or online, it can profoundly affect a child’s feelings about him or herself.
If you think your child is being bullied, there are several things you can do to help him or her cope. Working with your child’s school is also important to help stop the bullying from continuing.
What is Bullying?
Most kids get teased by a sibling or a friend on occasion, and that’s okay as long as it’s done in a playful and mutual way. It’s okay if both of the kids involved find the teasing funny. However, if teasing becomes unkind or constant, it crosses a line into bullying, and it needs to be addressed.
Bullying can take on many forms. Sometimes it is physical–shoving and hitting. Kids who bully might spread rumors about someone, extort money or possessions, threaten, or mock. Bullies may exclude someone, harass them online or by text message, or call them names. No matter what form bullying takes, the bully has the intention to cause harm to another person in physical, psychological, or verbal ways.
Who is at Risk of Being Bullied
Kids who are more likely to be bullied are typically perceived as being different from their peers in some way such as size, clothing choices, financial situations, or being new to the school. Others may be at risk for bullying if they…
– have low self-esteem or are anxious or depressed.
– don’t get along with others.
– are seen as annoying or antagonizing.
– are perceived as weak or not able to defend themselves.
– have very few friends.
Of course, this doesn’t mean if your child has one or more of these risk factors that he or she will be bullied.
TW // Gun Violence, Suicide
Effects of Bullying
Bullying can lead to physical, social, mental, and academic challenges for kids. These issues may persist into adulthood.
Kids who are bullied are more likely to experience feelings of anxiety and depression, experience appetite and sleep changes, and lose interest in doing things they once enjoyed. Those who are bullied are more likely to have lower grade point averages and standardized test scores. They are also more likely to skip school or drop out of school.
Bullied kids are also more likely to drink alcohol, smoke, get into fights, and be arrested at some point during their lives. A small number of bullied kids may choose to retaliate with violence. In the 1990s, in 12 out of 15 school shootings, the perpetrators had a history of being bullied.
In rare cases, bullying can become so unbearable that a child or teen decides to commit suicide to escape it. It’s important to note, though, factors other than bullying also contribute to suicide.
If you think your child is being bullied, it is something to take seriously.
Signs Your Child May be Being Bullied
As your child grows up, try to keep the lines of communication between you and your child as open and honest as possible. You want your child to know that he or she can come to you about absolutely anything. It’s often difficult to keep the lines of communication open as a child gets older, but let your child know that you are always there for him or her and that you are open to talking about anything.
Unfortunately, unless your child or someone else tells you or you see injuries, it can be difficult to know if your child is being bullied.
Here are some warning signs that your child may be being bullied:
– Your child seems anxious.
– Behavior changes.
– Your child seems moodier or more easily upset than normal.
– Sleep and appetite changes – sleeping and/or eating more or less than usual.
– Your child loses interest in things he or she used to enjoy doing.
– Your child tries to avoid certain situations, such as taking the bus to or from school.
– Your child begins to get into fights.
– Your child has unexplained cuts, bruises, scratches, or other injuries.
– Falling grades in school.
– Your child has missing or damaged clothes or possessions.
– Your child doesn’t want to go to school.
– Your child frequently has stomach aches or unexplained pain.
– Is hungrier than usual when he or she comes home from school.
– Asks you for extra food or money.
– Is secretive about his or her online activities.
Talk with Your Child About Bullying
Having conversations about bullying is important whether or not you believe your child is being bullied. These conversations are essential if you believe your child is being bullied in school or online.
Bullying is a tough subject, one that many kids may not be comfortable discussing, especially if they are being bullied themselves. If your child is being bullied, he or she may be hesitant to open up about it because he or she feels embarrassed or ashamed.
Watch a movie or television show that addresses bullying or cyberbullying to help you start a conversation with your child about these issues. Some movies to consider watching with your older child or teen about bullying or cyberbullying include Mean Girls (2004), Bully (2001), The Fat Boy Chronicles (2010), Cyberbully (2011), and A Girl Like Her (2015). Hercules (1997), The Ant Bully (2006), and Billy Elliot (2000) are good choices for younger children.
After watching the movie together, you can ask your child some questions to begin a discussion about bullying. Ask questions like:
– What do you think about the bullying the main character dealt with?
– What would you have done in this situation?
– Have you ever witnessed bullying?
– Have you ever experienced something like this at school or online?
It might also be helpful if you talk about your own experiences or those of a loved one when they were your child’s age. Knowing that you can relate to how they are feeling can help your child open up and be vulnerable with you.
When your child talks to you about bullying or being mistreated, really listen. It’s tempting to get angry or frustrated on your child’s behalf, but showing strong negative reactions won’t help your child with the situation. Your child needs your help and support. It’s okay to be angry and frustrated, but keep these emotions in check while you’re talking with your child.
You can come up with a list of responses your child can use to stop bullying behavior. The responses should be direct and assertive but not antagonizing. Never teach your child to respond by putting the bully down. This will only serve to escalate the situation.
Here are a few suggestions.
– Leave me alone.
– That wasn’t very kind.
– Back off.
– Yeah, whatever.
Practice with your child. You can role-play the bully and have your child use these statements. Have your child say these statements with as much confidence as he or she can. Your child should assert himself or herself in a calm way instead of getting flustered or upset. Practicing these statements by role-playing at home will help your child respond in an appropriate manner if he or she is bullied.
Sometimes the best thing a kid can do is to walk away from a bully. If your child cannot tell the bully to stop in a clear and calm way, this approach may be a better one. If your child tells a bully to back off but looks fearful or upset, whines, or cries, this will only make the bullying worse.
If it isn’t possible for your child to walk away from the bully, such as in the classroom, teach your child to simply ignore the bully. If a bully sees that he or she isn’t upsetting your child, he or she may get bored and stop on his or her own.
When your child is confident, he or she becomes less of a target for bullying. Encourage your child to do the things he or she enjoys and is good at. Help your child foster healthy relationships with his or her peers. When your child has confidence, he or she is more likely to feel good about himself or herself, and a bully’s comments may not affect your child’s self-esteem as much.
Educate Your Child on Why Kids Bully
Educating your child may not stop the bullying, but it can help your child understand why bullies do what they do. Your child may be able to have compassion for the bully, even though he or she is engaging in harmful behavior.
Oftentimes, a bully mistreats other kids because he or she has learned this behavior in their home. A bully may be used to an environment where arguing, yelling, and name-calling are common. The bully may be regularly bullied at home him or herself.
Bullies often feel bad about themselves. They may feel weak. Bullies often want to gain power and control with their behavior. Bullies often don’t realize that their behavior is wrong or how it makes others feel.
There is no excuse for bullying, of course, but helping your child understand why another kid bullies him or her can help your child realize the bully’s behavior isn’t personal. A bully is trying to cope with his or her own issues in an inappropriate way.
Teach Your Child to Stand Up for Others
Adults can and should certainly intervene when a child is being bullied. However, it is much more impactful if another child steps in on behalf of someone being mistreated. Teach your child to stand up for other kids if they are being bullied.
Encourage your child to be kind to others who are being bullied. Your child can show kindness by sitting by the student in the cafeteria or on the bus, by befriending him or her, talking to him or her in school, and including the student in play at recess.
Don’t Ignore It
It can be tempting to think that bullying is just part of childhood, but it’s not. Nobody deserves to be bullied, and it’s not something any child should just have to tough out.
If your child wants to try to handle the situation on his or her own, that’s okay (initially). Sit down and make a plan with your child on how to handle the situation. Check in regularly with your child to see how the plan of action is going and to assess whether the bullying has stopped.
If the plan of action you help your child create for handling the situation isn’t effective and the bullying continues, it’s time to talk to someone at the school. You don’t want bullying to become a persistent issue your child has to deal with.
Talk to a teacher, school counselor, or principal at your child’s school about what is going on. Ask about the school’s policies on bullying and if they have any anti-bullying programs. Keep the lines of communication open with the school so you can work together to help resolve the situation.
It’s probably best not to contact the bullying child’s parents directly on your own. If you think a meeting between you and the bullying child’s parents would be beneficial, ask someone at your child’s school such as a school counselor or the principal, to facilitate it.
As soon as your child tells you he or she is being bullied, begin documenting the incidents your child tells you about. Include as many details as you can. This will help the school decide what the best approach to the situation is. This information will also be important if you need to involve law enforcement.
You need to get law enforcement involved right away if your child receives serious threats of bodily harm, is seriously injured, there is sexual abuse, or your child is robbed or extorted. Familiarize yourself with your state’s anti-bullying laws.
Bullying, while relatively common for today’s kids, isn’t something that any person deserves nor should anyone be expected to just tough out. If you suspect your child is being bullied, talk to him or her about it. Listen to what your child has to say carefully, and keep your own emotions in check. Create a plan of action your child can use to stop the bullying.
If the bullying doesn’t stop despite your child implementing the action plan you create, talk to someone at your child’s school. Work with school personnel to help resolve the situation. Don’t hesitate to involve your local law enforcement if you need to.