Bullying is when a person deliberately and repeatedly hurts someone else. The hurt can be physical or emotional. In school or at the playground, bullying includes hitting, pushing, name calling, leaving people out and teasing. Bullying is not restricted to physical environments. With the increasing amounts of time that our children and teens spend online, cyberbullying is also on the rise. 14.8% of high school students in the USA reported being bullied online. Keeping kids offline is not a viable solution however and further, 90% of teens who report being cyberbullied have also been bullied offline.
Consider these scenarios. Many such situations are so common that parents and teachers underestimate the impact that they have on children. In fact, 1 out of every 4 children is bullied each school year but 64% of children who are bullied do not report it.
- The teacher invites kids to brainstorm on a topic and share ideas. One girl raises her hand. Someone sniggers loudly and a few kids chuckle quietly. The girl quickly drops her arm and the class moves on. The girl thinks it was better to have not spoken as it was a stupid idea anyway.
- Middle-schoolers queuing up at the cafeteria at lunch. A couple of boys walk up to one kid, laughing and chatting and stay on with him in the queue, cutting in front of the boy behind as he were invisible. The boy says nothing, this happens a lot of the time and he is used to it.
- 8-year-old girls scootering around the playground whizz past one girl standing. She jumps back in fright to avoid the girls crashing into her. She notices the girls turning around to give her a nasty look as they scooter off together laughing. The girl avoids coming to the playground in the evenings and stays at home reading.
- A teenaged boy leaves his computer on to speak to a teacher and a classmate quietly posts a homophobic status update on his social media account. The boy returns to several nasty comments from his friends and is hugely embarrassed. Some of his peers don’t believe that he was ‘fraped’ and he feels he is now seen as homophobic and/or a homosexual in school. He is painfully self-conscious, doubts himself and becomes severely anxious about school.
Here are some warning signs that might indicate that your child is being bullied. Your child may be bullied if you see that he/she you
- gets hurt or bruised;
- is scared or has nightmares;
- loses or has damaged possessions;
- puts him/herself down;
- doesn’t want to go to school;
- has no friends or party invitations;
- often feels sick; or
- acts aggressively.
It is important for parents and schools to take bullying seriously and have a no tolerance attitude for bullying behaviours. Students who experience bullying are twice as likely as non-bullied peers to experience negative health effects such as headaches and stomachaches. They are also at increased risk for poor school adjustment, sleep difficulties, anxiety, and depression. Students who engage in bullying behavior are not free from mental health problems. In fact, they are at increased risk for academic problems, substance use, and violent behavior later in adolescence and adulthood.
What works to stop bullying
Teens report that supportive actions from others made the most impact. Trying to stop the bullying by fighting, getting back at the bullies or telling them to stop usually made things worse. However, teachers are most helpful when they listen to the student, check in with them afterwards to see if the bullying stopped, and give the student advice. Ignoring or telling students to not tattle, telling them to solve the problem themselves or to act differently to stop the bullying were most harmful to students.
So, what can parents do if your child is bullied? Stopping bullying needs a 360° approach with actions targeting bullies and their supporters, bystanders and victims. It needs consistent, ongoing and firm actions from parents, teachers, educators and mental health professionals.
1. Speak to your child in a gentle, non-blaming way. It is not their fault for being picked on or being unable to stop the bullying. Find out more about what is happening, for long and how your child has been dealing with it so far. Set up regular talk time with your child where they can update you on the situation.
2. Speak to a teacher if the bullying is happening in school. Ensure that the school is able to increase supervision at recess and intervene in children’s negative peer interactions in a positive and constructive way.
3. Schools can also make a big impact on ‘bystanders’ – kids that silently watch bullying and do not defend the victims. Kids that believe that they can make a positive difference to society are more likely to intervene on behalf of peers who are being picked on. Schools can encourage taking positive action and build better communities for your child. Thankfully, about 57% of bullying situations stop when a peer intervenes on behalf of the victim.
4. Speak to the school counsellor and involve them in the process of stopping the bullying. The counsellor will able to speak to the entire groups of kids and address group interactions with positive exercises that can break down barriers in communication or facilitate the building of friendships and positive bonds. Counsellors can help your child find a buddy to look out for them.
5. Counselling can help your child practice different strategies to diffuse tense situations, resolve conflicts and be assertive and stand up for themselves. Counselling is also important to help prevent your child from feeling badly about themselves and developing poor self-esteem.
The Knowbullying App is a great, free resource for parents with features such as tips, warning signs, information and conversation starters and reminders to talk to your children. It even has a special section with resources for educators.
At Psynaptica our Clinical Psychologist, Shrimathi Swaminathan provides therapy to build self-esteem and stop the damage to mental health and wellbeing of children who are bullied. She also works with children who bully others to help them manage anger, build positive relationships, self-esteem and positive attitudes. Shri supports parents and consults with teachers to develop effective strategies in schools.
Speak to Shri for help with bullying.