Parents should know the signs their child is being bullied – and what to do about it.
Bullying among school children is an age-old occurrence. But whereas children once could find respite from their school yard bullies at home, mobile devices and the Internet have enabled bullies to relentlessly pursue their victims into their own homes, on their own computers, cell phones, and social network pages. In 2010, the problem of cyber-bullying was catapulted into the national spotlight when 15-year-old Phoebe Prince committed suicide after suffering months of constant bullying from classmates.
It is sad that it takes a tragedy of this magnitude to raise consciousness about a problem that plagues millions of school children day-in and day-out, and remind us that we need to equip our children to deal with bullies they encounter -- not just in the real world, but also in the virtual worlds they inhabit.
Consider these sobering statistics from isafe.org:
- 42% of kids have been bullied while online. One in 4 have had it happen more than once.
- 35% of kids have been threatened online. Nearly 1 in 5 have had it happen more than once.
- 21% of kids have received mean or threatening e-mail or other messages.
- 58% of kids admit someone has said mean or hurtful things to them online. More than 4 out of 10 say it has happened more than once.
- 53% of kids admit having said something mean or hurtful to another person online. More than 1 in 3 have done it more than once.
- 58% have not told their parents or an adult about something mean or hurtful that happened to them online. [Source: iSafe.com]
These problems can be compounded by popular entertainment, which often model and reinforce cliquish behavior. Programs that target a younger demographic
frequently feature high-school cliques, and send the message to young viewers that beauty, wealth, and irresponsible behavior are requirements for popularity. Attractive characters – characters young fans admire -- are frequently shown ostracizing peers who don’t fit-in because they don’t wear the right clothes, because they are not pretty enough, or because their parents are in the wrong tax bracket.
While the entertainment industry is not exclusively to blame for behaviors like bullying, media portrayals which appear to endorse such behavior, or portray it as normal and acceptable, can certainly exacerbate the problem.
If you see this kind of behavior exhibited on a program your child watches, use the opportunity to talk to your child about bullying, and whether they are seeing it at school or have felt bullied themselves.
If your child is being bullied, he will more than likely display at least one of the following signs:
- Not sleeping well
- Loss of appetite
- Not wanting to participate in activities that he used to enjoy or look forward to
- Seems to be upset for no apparent reason
Characteristics of a Bully
If your child, or one of your child’s classmates or friends exhibits any of these behaviors, it should raise an alarm with you.
- Problems following rules (or just does not want to follow rules)
- Temperamental; easy to anger
- Views violence as a positive thing
- Does not display any feelings of empathy for others
- Becomes easily frustrated
Parents can help stop children from being bullied. Here are some tips:
- Do thank the child for telling a parent about the bullying. Parents should actively listen to their child being sure to not interrupt as he talks about the bullying. Parents may want to share their own experiences with childhood bullying and tell how they handled it when they were children.
- Do assure the child that the bullying is not his own fault. Parents should validate their child's right to safety and also ask what the child needs the parent or the school to do in order for the child to feel safe.
- Do take action. Parents need to set up a meeting with the child's teacher and the school's principal to find out what anti-bullying efforts are in place. Together, parents and school officials should make a plan to separate the victim from the bully or at the very least to have more supervision of their interactions. Once the plan is in place, parents should have daily check-ins with the child and weekly check-ins with the school to make sure the plan is being successfully implemented.
How to Stop Bullies: What Not to Do
There are also things to avoid doing when helping a victim of bullying.
- Don't contact the bully's parents. Bullying is a learned behavior and there is a good possibility that one or both parents are bullies themselves. Adult bullies often deny that their child is a bully and they may even accuse the victim of lying in order to hurt the bully's reputation or cause trouble for the family in order to take the negative focus off the bully.
- Don't ignore the problem or tell the child to “tough it out.” A bullied child needs help and intervention before he suffers permanent psychological damage from bullying.
- Don't accuse the child's teacher of not doing her job. Chances are she hasn't witnessed the bullying or she doesn't realize the seriousness of the situation. The teacher is a parent's ally and should be treated as such.
Tips for Victims of Cyber-Bullies (and their parents!):
- Tell a trusted adult about the bullying, and keep telling until the adult takes action.
- Don’t open or read messages by cyber bullies.
- Tell your school if it is school related. Schools have a bullying solution in place.
- Don’t erase the messages—they may be needed to take action.
- Protect yourself—never agree to meet with the person or with anyone you meet online.
- If bullied through chat or instant messaging, the “bully” can often be blocked.
- If you are threatened with harm, inform the local police.
Add to our comments below some other ways to stop cyberbullying.