Bullying in school is nothing new. We’ve all experienced bullying at one time or another, and some of us may have even inadvertently contributed to bullying (gossiping about a friend or teasing your sister…). But the thought of someone bullying our kids may hurt us even more than it does our kids.
As parents, we want the best for our kids and do whatever we can to make that happen. When they’re young, we join playgroups and enroll them in enriching activities to help them find their ‘thing’ and make friends. But once they begin school, our kids are learning and interacting without mom and dad protectively by their sides. It’s a great feeling when they come home from school with smiles on their faces. But what do you do if your child seems unhappy at school or – worse yet – you notice signs your child is being bullied?
First, know that you’re not alone. According to a report published on the National Association for Education Statistics website, about 22 percent of students aged 12- 18 reported being bullied at school in 2019, and roughly 16 percent of students in grades 9 – 12 reported being electronically bullied during the previous 12 months. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that one in five high school students reported being bullied on school property in 2021. And these statistics only reflect the cases that have been documented – but sadly, most bullying goes unreported. Second, learn how to spot bullying and familiarize yourself with the differences.
Types of Bullies
Physical Bullying: Involves harming a person’s body or belongings by getting physical in a dominating, threatening manner. Examples include hitting, pushing, kicking, tripping, vulgar physical gestures, unwelcome touching, and forcefully taking someone’s belongings.
Saying or writing hurtful things to or about a person with the intent of belittling and demeaning them, such as teasing/taunting, calling names, making threats, making inappropriate sexual comments, and verbally abusive Language.
Also called relational aggression, social/emotional bullying is aimed at harming someone’s reputation or making a person feel socially isolated. Examples include purposely leaving out or ‘shunning’ someone, spreading rumors or gossip, telling other people not to associate with someone, and publicly humiliating someone.
Gone are the days when bullying consisted mainly of schoolyard and classroom bullies insulting us and demanding our lunch money. Technology has taken bullying to a whole new level. Cyberbullying allows bullies to harass their victims with the Internet, cell phones, and other digital devices. Examples of cyberbullying include posting hurtful comments on social media about another person, posting inappropriate and unauthorized photos of someone, making online threats, and sending hurtful texts and emails.
Cyberbullying most often occurs on platforms like TikTok, Instagram, Snap Chat, Facebook, and other social media sites, as well as through email, texts, online chat rooms, and gaming applications. Cyberbullying has become prevalent because it fuels the ‘keyboard warrior’ mentality, often empowering people to write things they may not say in person.
However, because technology gives bullies directly, round-the-clock access to their victims and has a far-reaching audience (the World Wide Web), cyberbullying is a particularly invasive, emotionally damaging form of bullying.
Potential Warning Signs of Bullying
Many children don’t report bullying because, among other reasons, they may feel embarrassed and worried that reporting it may make the bullying even worse.
Here’s how to know if your kid is being bullied, and how to recognize the potential signs:
Broken and Lost Belongings, Torn or Dirty Clothing, Unexplained Injuries
Any child can stain their clothing or lose their lunchbox, but when a child repeatedly comes home with unexplained scuffs and scrapes, tattered clothing, or broken or missing personal possessions… it may indicate the physical signs of bullying. Children may offer vague explanations when questioned, as many are reluctant to discuss bullying.
Reluctance To Go To School
If your child suddenly starts creating excuses to stay home, has sudden recurring stomach pain or headaches not caused by medical issues, or you begin getting frequent calls from the school nurse because your child wants to come home sick, it may indicate a bullying problem. Bullied children are often most reluctant to go to school on Mondays, after enjoying a ’safe’ weekend away.
Slipping Grades and Academic Performance
A sudden drop in grades may indicate that your child is feeling anxious or distracted at school. Talk to your child’s teacher about what may be causing the change.
Trouble Making or Keeping Friends
Is your child suddenly spending more time alone and/or avoiding social situations? It may be a sign that he or she is feeling left out, or having trouble making new friends. Pay close attention if your previously social child is no longer attending birthday parties, asking for or being invited to play dates, or – if they’re older – hanging out with friends.
Moodiness and Isolation
Although moodiness is par for the course with adolescents and teens, sudden irritability and isolation may be a sign that your child is feeling excluded and alone. If he or she becomes emotional, anxious, or upset when talking about school, this could be another red flag.
Changes in Eating And/Or Sleeping Patterns
If your child is having trouble sleeping – especially on school nights – it may be a sign that he’s feeling anxious about the next day. Similarly, if he comes home hungry, it may be a sign that he’s skipping lunch – possibly due to bullying. Who Is At Risk For Bullying?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), some demographic groups experience bullying more than others. For example, in their most recent study, almost 40 percent of high school students who identified as lesbian, gay, or bisexual and about 33 percent of students who were unsure of their sexual identity experienced bullying either at school or electronically, compared to 22% of heterosexual high school students. The CDC also indicated that, on average, female students experience more bullying than males, and white students are bullied more than Hispanic or black students. Bullying most frequently occurs in middle school, in grades six through eight. Statistics aside – bullying can happen to anyone, at any time. But sometimes children are bullied because they’re perceived as being ‘different’ in some way or because they exhibit one or more additional risk factors for being bullied.
Banish The Bullies
As parents, we’ve worked so hard to teach our children to be themselves and not worry about what other people think. But what do we do when this advice leads to bullying from our peers?
Keep In Touch
The single most important thing parents can do to guide their children through a bullying situation is to talk to them. Keep an open dialogue and let your kids know they can come to you any time, about anything.
Keep Your Reactions In Check
Your response will determine how your child reacts to a situation. So if your child tells you someone threw sand in his eyes on the playground or your teen shares that her best friend said something means behind her back – respond in a calm, restrained manner and don’t judge or disparage the alleged bully.
Listen and Reassure
Ask open-ended questions about how the incident made your child feel. Provide reassurance that the bullying is not your child’s fault.
Come Up With A Plan
Teach your child how to respond to bullying behavior. Have a friendly (non-accusatory) conversation with his or her teachers about classroom strategies, and – if warranted – work with his or her guidance counselor to come up with solutions.
Explain The Bully Mentality
Teach your child that in most cases, bullies are simply trying to make themselves feel good by making others feel bad. Reinforce that it’s never okay for someone to attempt to brighten his or her own flame by dimming someone else’s.
Set Limits on Technology
Limit your child’s screen time, and remind her that everything she posts can potentially be passed on to others – to the entire school – or even the entire world. Teach her responsible social media use and tell her to alert you if she finds anything posted online upsetting or threatening.
Teach your kids that rather than focusing on being popular or hanging with the ‘cool’ kids, they should focus on being happy. There are considerably more kids who aren’t in the ‘popular group,’ so there’s more opportunity to make – and keep – friends among the general student population. Plus, striving to be one of the ‘cool kids’ can be stressful. Even if a student achieves popularity, many feel constant pressure to maintain their status. Teach them that truly being ‘cool’ means being happy with who you are (and let him know he’s awesome!).
Get Them Involved and Connected
Remember the days when you socialized your kids with play dates and T-Ball? Consider working with your child to find alternative ways to connect with other kids and make friends who share similar interests. Recommend engaging activities like after-school music lessons to get in touch with his inner rock star, Tae-Kwon to exercise and learn self-defense, or join the robotics team to unleash her scientific ingenuity.
Know When To Seek Help
If bullying goes unnoticed, it can lead to lasting psychological effects like depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues as well as unhealthy coping mechanisms like substance abuse and skipping school. If your child seems troubled and doesn’t want to talk to you, reach out to your child’s school counselor or consider a professional therapist. Let your children know that if they ever feel threatened, they should seek help from a teacher or other trusted adult – immediately.
Change the Environment
If the bullying continues despite your best efforts and you and your child determine that her school isn’t a good fit, consider enrolling her in a school better aligned with her interests. For example, a budding musician might thrive at a performing arts school or feel more confident in a single-gender school. Many students prefer and would excel in a private school focusing on one-on-one and small-group education. In certain cases, some students may benefit from a boarding school where they can flourish academically and socially.
Don’t Despair. As emotionally trying as the situation seems now, most likely – this too shall pass. With a supportive environment at home and in school, you can empower your child to be resilient and self-confident – even when confronting bullies.
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