Bullying can be an isolating experience — not just for the kids involved — but for their parents, too. Bullying can be defined in many different ways but most agree that bullying is behavior that hurts or harms another emotionally or physically. It is being done on purpose. The target often has difficulty defending themselves and making it stop. The individual who is bullying has more physical, emotional, or social power than the target. Bullying is typically a repetitive behavior although it can occur in a single incident. It is important to know the difference between bullying and conflict. With conflict, behavior is self-monitored and generally stopped when it is realized that someone is getting hurt. But with bullying, the behavior is continued even when they realize another is getting hurt and there is a feeling of power and control. Bullying includes hurting someone by actions and/or words.
It can take many forms:
- Physical: hitting, fighting, pushing, biting, taking or breaking someone’s things
- Verbal: teasing, name calling, threats, mean jokes, rumors, gossip, and saying things about someone that aren’t true
- Emotional/Social: intentionally not including someone in an activity, telling someone who they can and cannot be friends with, telling lies about someone, embarrassing somebody publically
- Sexual: sexually charged comments, inappropriate or lewd glances, inappropriate physical contact, targeted sexual jokes
- Cyberbullying: using technology to hurt someone including mean text messages, posting stories, videos or photos that make fun of someone, hate speech and spreading rumors online
Who Gets Bullied?
Bullying can happen to any child at any time. Bullying can happen to anyone but no one ever deserves to be bullied. Roles can change frequently – those who are a target of bullying can also demonstrate bullying behavior towards others. Children who are bullied might struggle to defend themselves. They may have emotional reactions such as becoming angry or scared or crying. They may have few friends or be socially isolated. Children with even one friend are less likely to become a target of bullying, because peers are more likely to help one another in times of need.
It can affect children in a number of negative ways. Bullying can impact education through avoidance of school or absenteeism, lowered academic achievement, lower grades, inability to concentrate and higher dropout rates. It can cause physical symptoms including headaches, stomachaches, fear, anxiety, depression, sleeping problems, low self-esteem, increased aggression, self-isolation, retaliation, and thoughts of suicide. It can also lead to safety problems including post-traumatic stress, general deterioration in physical health, self-harm, and feeling of alienation at school.
What Can Parents Do?
- Talk with your child. Be prepared to listen calmly and without judgment. Provide a safe and supportive place where your child can talk about his or her feelings. Learn as much as possible about the situation, such as how long the behavior has been happening, who has been involved, and what steps have been taken. Let your child know they are not alone and you are there to help.
- Support and empower your child. After listening to your child, empower them to create a plan to help stop the bullying. Talk about ways you can support them as well as intervention strategies they can use, such as working with the school or advocating on their own. Focus on your child’s strengths and abilities to help build self-confidence and resilience. Make sure to share the plan with others involved, such as teachers, coaches, and other adults who interact with your child on a daily basis.
- Learn your rights. Federal laws that can address problems with bullying include Title IV and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Each state has different laws and policies on bullying, along with requirements on how schools should respond.
- Who else should be involved? Make a list of the steps that you plan to take or have already implemented. Written records provide a history of incidences and responses, which can be very helpful when addressing the issue with school administrators or law enforcement. Write a letter to the school documenting what you have learned and describing your concerns. You may need to meet with the school staff. You may want to consider contacting a guidance counselor or other health professionals for advice. If the situation doesn’t change, your plan might include steps to contact local law enforcement or legal counsel.
- Get involved in your community. Bullying touches many lives and it might be happening to others in your child’s school or community. You can help by raising awareness through community events, attending workshops or trainings in your community, or sharing information with others. Consider participating in Bullying Prevention Month, discuss bullying at PTO / PTA meetings, foster inclusion for all students, talk about what happens during the school day at the breakfast or dinner table, volunteer at school, model good and inclusive behaviors, form a school safety committee to foster a collaborative effort between parents, students, and school staff to prevent bullying.