Bullying has become one of the most pervasive social and emotional obstacles faced by adolescents in the United States today. Particularly with the rise in cyber-bullying, it is easier than ever for kids to anonymously and instantly bully one another. While the focus has shifted from bullying as a “rite of passage” or “normal experience” for children, to the realization that it is a serious issue with damaging repercussions, bullying still remains a critical issue for many children. A recent post from CNN’s Health Center via the Mayo Clinic discovered that more than half of all children are bullied at some point.
The three main types of bullying are:
Physical: hitting, punching, kicking and other types of physical harm, as well as destruction of a child’s property.
Verbal: teasing, name-calling, taunting and racial, sexist and homophobic slurs, as well as spreading gossip or malicious rumors
Cyberbullying: harassing emails, instant messages and text messages, as well as intimidating or threatening websites, blogs or posts.
Bullying has incredibly damaging emotional (and sometimes physical) consequences. The pain caused by bullying can last well beyond childhood. Bullied children may complain of psychosomatic illnesses (such as headaches and stomach aches) as a result of emotional distress to avoid going to school. Their academic work may suffer because of inability to concentrate. Children who are bullied have higher rates of depression, anxiety and other mental health issues. They are also at higher risk for suicide. In his book “Why Kids Kill: Inside The Minds of School Shooters” Dr. Peter Langman examines the profiles of ten school shooters. Almost all school shooters have either incidences of being bullied at school or abused in the home. While being bullied or abused is not a direct causation of violence in schools, it does increase the risk of violent behaviors against peers, especially when children (most likely boys) feel they have no way of being heard.
While every child reacts differently to the stresses of bullying, there are some warning signs to look for:
- Damaged or missing clothing or other personal belongings
- Unexplained bruises or other injuries
- Few friends or close contacts
- Reluctance to go to school or ride the school bus
- Poor school performance
- Headaches, stomachaches or other physical complaints
- Trouble sleeping or eating
With the overwhelming prevalence of bullying among adolescents (made even easier by cyberbullying), it feels daunting to think about how prevent bullying and support victims. But here are some ways you can help:
- Encourage children to Share their Concerns: Listen in a loving, supportive, and non-judgmental way. Let the child know that you are here for him/her and that you can work together to figure out a solution. Don’t pass judgment, try to give advice, or invalidate the pain and difficulty that a victim of bullying is going through (for example don’t say “It’s not so bad.” or “This will pass!”). Giving someone a safe space to share their feelings and just listening can be one of the most helpful things you can do.
- Teach Children How to Respond to Bullying: Don’t promote retaliation or fighting back. This promotes a cycle of violence and reinforces the idea that dominating others is the way to be in control and resolve conflicts. Encourage children to spend time with others who enjoy things they like (like joining a team, club, or other activity). Also encourage children to talk to adults they trust at school about the bullying. It’s their job to be able to advocate for children who are bullying victims and to step in when kids may be feeling overwhelmed.
- Boost your child’s self-confidence. Help bullied children get involved in activities that can raise self-esteem, such as sports, music or art. Encourage children to build friendships and develop his or her social skills.
- Know when to seek professional help. Consider professional or school counseling for children if their fear or anxiety becomes overwhelming.
In the next few months, FVPC will be going into Chapel Hill/ Carrboro middle schools to begin work on the Start Strong curriculum. We focus a great deal on bullying and abuse within the home and how to get help in both of these situations. Prevention programs like Start Strong teach kids about self esteem, provide outlets for children to have their voices heard and hopefully prevent violent incidents from occurring.