Bully Proof Your Family Part 1: Acknowledge Bullying
By Jennifer Seawell, MD, FAAP
According to 2016 studies, over 20% of school-aged children reported being bullied.
Various studies may report differences in prevalence, but those of us with kids in school know there is a problem. With increasing rates of bullying and the resulting consequences on mental health and education, it is time to take action. We as parents need to acknowledge bullying and help teach our kids how to handle it. Because with a 1 in 5 occurrence rate, chances are good they WILL see it or be involved.
What is bullying?
Bullying is different from just being mean or leaving someone out. According to www.pacer.org, bullying is intentional behavior that hurts, harms, or humiliates a student, either physically or emotionally, and can happen while at school, in the community, or online. It should also be noted that there is often an imbalance in power between the bully and bullied. And although the incident may only happen once, it often happens repeatedly.
Often, bullying happens out of sight and ears of supervising adults. Hallways, bathrooms, and school busses are prime bullying locations. Affected students often avoid telling others because they are ashamed and don’t want to appear weak.
Why are kids bullied?
Kids bully other kids to show power and gain control. They pick on kids who are smaller, quieter, or different from them. Kids with medical issues or disabilities are at greater risk. Minority groups are at risk. Kids with gender identity issues are at risk. But one things is present in all the bullying situations. The bully aims to make his or her victim feel less than the bully.
What are the effects of bullying?
Bullying affects every area of a kid’s life. Social, medical, and mental health.
Bullied children often will withdraw from their peers. Many become very quiet and find reasons not to interact with their friends. They may be afraid to reach out to other students.
Bullied children are more likely to complain of trouble sleeping. They are also more likely to complain of physical complaints such as headaches and stomach-aches. Many will miss more school due to their physical complaints.
When children are worrying about bullying at school, it can be difficult to pay attention and focus. Grades often will drop and children have trouble learning.
Kids who are being bullied have higher incidences of depression and anxiety. There is an increased rate of suicide among children who are bullied.
How can we help?
Most schools and parents are currently telling kids to tell an adult if they are being bullied. But if asked, most children feel that we are failing them. We are not doing enough to protect them. Here are things to keep in mind..
Only about 40% of bullied kids tell an adult
Bullying is most likely to stop if other children step in to say something (nearly 60%!!)
Most children report interventions they direct toward the bully do not help. This includes telling them to stop, pretending it doesn’t bother them, or trying to “get back” at them. (and notably, this is what we adults usually tell them to do)
What does NOT work?
- Telling them to ignore the bully.
- Telling them that it’s just part of growing up and it will pass.
- Zero tolerance policies do not work. You can read more about that here. But in general, making an across the board rule doesn’t take into account all of the possible nuances. Do we REALLY want to punish a kid who finally stands up to the person who has been tormenting him for months? My 13-year-old attended an assembly at the beginning of the school year letting the kids know that if someone attacked them, they were not to retaliate or defend themselves. If they did participate at all, they would be suspended as well. We are asking them to be suspended or face physical harm. Not ok.
So if what we’re telling them doesn’t work, what DO we tell them?
Clearly our tactics need to change. Our kids are hurting and school is often not a safe place for them. How can we expect them to learn when they are physically and emotionally unsafe? We need to acknowledge bullying. Acknowledge that it is a problem. Ask our kids how we can help. Things to do RIGHT NOW…
TEACH OUR KIDS TO WATCH OUT FOR OTHERS
The biggest protection for kids who are being bullied is to have another child stand up for them. We have to teach our kids to stand with others. Be present. If they aren’t comfortable saying something to the bully, let them know to tell a teacher. If that teacher doesn’t listen, tell another. Tell the guidance counselor. They can come up with an excuse to help the bullied child escape. Any act, however small, will help the bullied child not feel so alone.
TALK WITH THE SCHOOL
If your child is having issues with bullying at school, make sure that the school is aware. Ask for their assistance in solving the problem. Check back in with them if attempts at resolution fail.
DO NOT BLAME YOUR CHILD
Avoid trying to sort out what your child may have done to incite the bullying behavior. Bullying is about control. Not about settling differences. Asking these questions only brings more shame to the child struggling.
DON’T ASSUME YOUR CHILD COULD NOT BE A BULLY
The roles between bully, bullied, and bystander are fluid and ever-changing. A child who is being bullied may be a bystander in other interactions and the bully in yet another. Our children, like us, are not perfect. Remember that the child and the behavior are not one and the same. All of our children need our support.
TALK TO YOUR CHILD
Keep the conversation going. Ask them if they’ve seen bullying taking place? Where is it happening? How is it being handled? How do they think they could help? Don’t have just one conversation. Keep it going.
The Pediatric Ninja
This article is the professional opinion of its author and is not intended to take the place of medical advice, diagnosis or treatment from your personal physician.