Parent's Guide To Dealing With Bullying
While school is a fundamental part of your child's formative years, it's not always plain sailing. The demands of the school routine, the pressure of homework assignments, and the perceived need to achieve good grades all add up. Many kids feel left out and may have trouble breaking into a popular clique or building a circle of friends. School itself can be challenging for many children, and it becomes much worse when bullying rears its ugly head. Unfortunately, that happens all too often. 28% of US students in grades 9-12 have experienced bullying, 30% of young people admit to having bullied others, and 70.6% say they have witnessed it happening. Those figures suggest that this is a common problem and that parents need to be aware of it.
As a parent, you need to be able to identify if your child is a victim or a perpetrator of this kind of abuse and be in a position to help resolve the situation.
Bullying has evolved. Before the widespread use of cell phones and social media, bullies usually worked through face-to-face encounters. Now the rise of social media and the widespread availability of mobile phones enables them to adopt new methods that make it more difficult than ever to know whether your child is a victim.
Physical bullying includes hitting, kicking, pinching, pushing, tripping or damaging property. It is perhaps the most traditional kind of bullying and causes short-term and long-term damage.
Verbal bullying includes name-calling, teasing, insults, shouting, threats, intimidation, and other kinds of verbal abuse, such as homophobic or racist remarks. While this can seem harmless, it can quickly escalate to a point where the target experiences extreme depression.
Social bullying is more difficult to spot, even for the victim. That's because it often happens behind the victim's back. It can involve rumor spreading or lying, embarrassing and humiliating the target, playing nasty jokes, or encouraging others to exclude the target from a social group.
Cyberbullying occurs in social media via email, text message, instant message or telephone call. Cyberbullying can happen in an open public forum or in private. If the latter, often only the bully and the target are aware of the abuse.
8% of US students in grades 9-12 have experienced bullying, 30% of young people admit to having bullied others, and 70.6% say they have witnessed it happening.
All of these can have damaging short-term effects on children, and in extreme cases may lead to depression, refusal to attend school and even suicide. Some studies indicate that bully victims are two to nine times more likely to commit suicide than their peers and that 160,000 kids stay home from school every day due to bullying. Figures like that are a good reason to pay attention.
Unless your child openly tells you that he or she is being bullied or has obvious signs of physical abuse when they return from school, it can be difficult to spot. Physical bullying is perhaps the easiest kind to detect because it exhibits signs in the form of bruises, cuts, ripped clothes or frequent complaints from your child of headaches and stomach aches. If your kid is being bullied, you may also notice sudden changes in their personality. For example, a child who is usually happy-go-lucky and confident might become quieter and not want to go to school.
Sleep disturbance, like frequent nightmares and difficulty falling asleep, is also a sign that your child might be on the receiving end of abuse. The same goes for changes in your child's eating habits and willingness to participate in social activities. If your child goes out of their way to avoid certain situations, like taking the bus to school, if you notice a sudden drop in your child's grades, then a bully could be responsible. Children who are bullied often blame themselves, and feel helpless and worthless. Bullied children also come across as being sad, lonely, anxious or depressed, which affects their schoolwork and attendance, often resulting in poorer grades.
The signs of cyberbullying are often more difficult to spot. However, if your child used to be an avid user of social media and instant messaging, and then they suddenly stopped, this could be because they are the targets of cyberbullies. A lot of cyberbullying often occurs in private messages, but it also sometimes happens out in the open. For this reason, it's a good idea to keep an eye on your child's various social media accounts and see if you can spot any obvious signs, such as nasty posts on your child's profile.
Bullying is a delicate subject, and many children are reluctant to talk about it, especially if it's happening to them. As a parent, you have such an important role to play in resolving the situation, but you'll need to handle it carefully to avoid making things worse.
If your child has told you about bullying, don't be too quick to assume anything. One of the worse things you can do is ask them questions like, “did you hit them first?” or “did you do something to make them do that to you?” Questions like this will only make your child feel as though you think they have done something wrong when most of the time they haven't. Victims of bullying often blame themselves, and you shouldn't add to this.
A change in your child's behavior or a sudden drop in their grades could be signs that they are being bullied. However, the right time to talk isn't always when something is obviously wrong. Pick a time when your child is calm and not overly agitated. They will respond better and are more likely to open up about any problems they're experiencing. Try not to interrogate them. Simply say you've noticed a change in this or a change in that and see how the child responds.
Some parents rush to arrange a meeting between themselves, their child, the “bully” and the bully's parents. This isn't usually a good idea. A rush confrontation is inevitably awkward and uncomfortable for both children and rarely resolves the issue. The bottom line is that before calling any meeting, you should have a proper talk with your child. Often, a face-to-face meeting with the bully is the last thing they want and can often exacerbate the situation.