You might never expect that when you say goodbye to your child in the morning, that he or she might be the victim of bullying just a while later in the day. You might be even more shocked to learn that your child was a bully, victimizing another child. Unfortunately, bullying begins as early as the preschool years. Small bullies grow into bigger bullies and young victims suffer from bullying even years after the bullying has occurred.
Research from the Cooperative Extension at the University of New Hampshire found that a child is bullied every seven minutes, more than seven million incidents of bullying are reported in public schools each year, 30 percent of all school-age children report having been victims of bullying, 30 percent of all school-age children report having bullied someone else, 32 percent of children who use the internet report they have been cyber-bullied, and 86 percent of children ages 12-15 have experienced some form of bullying.
What is a bully? A bully is someone who repeatedly hurts others using physical, verbal or emotional tactics. A bully may tease, threaten, hit, shove, or kick other children. A bully may involve others by spreading rumors and encouraging others to join in while they act as a ringleader. Children who are bullies often come from homes where adults exhibit bullying behaviors themselves. Research shows that bullies are more likely to become violent adults, are more likely to drink, smoke and use illegal drugs, are more likely to commit crimes, and are more likely to be involved in child abuse later in life.
What are the signs of a child who has been bullied? There may be physical injuries from a push on the playground. Children who have been bullied may not sleep well, have frequent bad dreams or cry while sleeping. Bullied children may not want to go to school. Your child may frequently complain of tummy aches, headaches or other little sicknesses to avoid going to school. More seriously, they may suffer depression, exhibit low self-esteem, believe that they have few friends and are also at a higher risk for suicide. The effects of being bullied can last for years and have even been carried into adulthood.
What can you do if you find out your child is a bully? Teach and enforce negative consequences for bullying. Make sure your child accepts responsibility for his or her actions by owning up to what they have done. Require your child to apologize and make things right with the child they have bullied. Seek professional help and counseling for your family. Give your child opportunities to do service and help them to heal by giving to others. Talk to your child about what it means to be a good friend.
What should you do if you think your child is being bullied? Talk to your child in a caring way that shows they can trust you with their feelings. Assure your child that you will help him or her resolve the situation. Take their concerns seriously and gather as many facts as you can from your conversation. Your child should help decide whether or not you should contact the school or if they feel more comfortable talking to a teacher or guidance counselor on their own. This allows your child more control over the situation and as a result, more confident. If as a parent you decide to contact the school authorities, do so without overreaction. Allow the school officials to help you investigate the situation and develop a solution to the situation. If physical harm occurred, the incident should be reported to the police.
How should victims respond to bullying? Teach your child to be assertive, not aggressive. Your child should give a clear message that the bully’s behavior is wrong and that he or she is not going to be a part of it. Never encourage your child to respond with violence. Ignoring the bully often results in increased bullying because the bully wants to get a response from the victim. Be proactive and talk about bullying at home, before a situation occurs. Develop a written plan with your child on how face a bullying situation. Your plan should include how you as the parent will be involved, who the child feels comfortable talking to, what actions should be taken to avoid being around the bully and how to interact with the bully.
Bullying affects more than two children. Bullying can have negative effects on bystanders, outsiders who are pulled into the actions, family members of the bully and the victim and the whole community. Bullying affects every race, every ethnicity, and affluent children as well as children in poverty. Because bullying has no barriers, it is up to everyone to make our children safer from bullying. Understanding bullying is the key to prevention.
The Institute of Medicine (IOM) and the National Research Council (NRC) will hold a two-day workshop on April 9-10 that will feature expert presentations and discussion to highlight current research on bullying prevention as well as lessons learned from related areas of research and practice. The workshop is free and open to the public, but registration is required. You may register to attend the webcast version of the workshop at http://www.iom.edu/activities/children/reducingbullying/2014-apr-01.aspx
Information for this article was condensed from “Understanding Bullying” published by UNH Cooperative Extension For more information about bullying or other educational programs from Cooperative Extension, contact your local Cooperative Extension in Lincoln County at 704-736-8458 or www.ces.ncsu.edu.
April B. Dillon is Extension Agent for 4-H & Youth Development.