Is Your Child Being Bullied?

The National Center for Education Statistics cites that at least 20 percent of students ages 12 to 18 report some sort of bullying at school. The effects of bullying can have long-term negative consequences and can color childhood with fear, isolation or social anxiety. Initial research shows that while physical bullying has lessened, cyberbullying has increased by 70 percent ( since shutdowns due to COVID-19. With the closure of local businesses, social distancing restrictions in place and remote learning, kids are online more than ever before. Parents are balancing working from home and may be too overwhelmed to adequately monitor their youth’s online activity. In turn, many youth are feeling stressed, isolated or bored and may lash out online.

Bullied children who lack parental guidance or at-home support are more likely to suffer long-term effects like depression, anxiety and academic difficulties. It’s important to develop a vocabulary to fully understand scenarios where children may or may not be the victims of bullying, and if they are, how can parents be most supportive?

If your child comes to you complaining about a bully, make sure to tell them they did the right thing and they can always come to you with concerns. Keeping open communication is key. Ask about the experience in detail. Have them recount what happened, did the bullying occur face to face or online? Ask how your youth felt before, during and after, and look for certain key factors. For instance, was the so-called bully someone who is perceived to have more power – by being physically stronger, more popular, older or an authority figure? Did the bully carry out cruel actions intentionally? Has it happened more than once by the same perpetrator or group of bullies? Is it causing real harm? If the answers are yes, pay close attention.

Below are some signs to look for in youth that can help parents determine whether a mean remark, rumor or rejection are in fact the acts of a bully.

Signs of bullying may include:

  • A change or decline in grades
  • Depression
  • A change in eating or sleeping habits
  • Complaints of headaches, stomach aches or other physical ailments
  • Not wanting to go to school
  • Self-destructive behaviors

Before advising kids about how to respond to bullying, be sure to get all the facts. While it’s natural for parents to react emotionally to any story or evidence of bullying, it’s crucial to address the issue with all the information. Be receptive and calm while you listen to your child’s side of the story – this will encourage a more detailed, forthright account of what happened. If the bullying happened online ask to see the messages that were sent and what platform was used.

Once you have as many details as possible, help your child formulate a plan. Kids feel stronger and more confident when they have phrases, gestures or specific ideas in their back pocket – especially when it comes to being assertive. Find ways to boost your child’s confidence by giving them permission to do something he or she feels good at – like sports, drawing, or music. If the problem is persistent and warrants getting other parents or the school involved, talk to your child first to ensure you feel synced up about the plan. If not, kids might feel embarrassed or alienated by sharing their vulnerable stories with other adults they don’t know as well. In the case of online bullying encourage your youth to screenshot and report any further negative messages, texts, etc. Keep close tabs on your youth while online and consider setting up screens in an open area of your home. Monitor your child’s online communications but assure your youth you are not spying on them.

When Your Child is the Bully

Inflicting harm on other people, repeatedly harassing students or teachers, causing fights and tears at school or online – none of this is something parents plan for. Yet, for every kid who comes home complaining about a mean, unfair or aggressive classmate, there’s a bully or cohort to blame.

A parent’s first reflex will likely be denial. After all, when a teen isn’t demonstrating the traits of a bully at home, it may feel unbelievable that she or he could be nasty or intentionally unkind in any setting. However, the best thing a parent can do is stay calm and try to get to the root of the problem.

Help youth see the big picture. If you can walk through a situation in detail with your teen, including the context, their feelings and what caused them to feel negatively towards others, you can help them to identify where they fit in the broader scheme. This can help build empathy and reduce instances of bullying in the future. Let them know that any bullying, including online is unacceptable.

Create a plan for teens to own up to their actions. If someone is hurt or emotionally bothered, the consequences can be very serious and long-term. Sit with your son or daughter to discuss how they can apologize and remedy the damage they caused. Help them practice exactly what they will say and how they can be kinder and more inclusive in the future.

Once a bully, always a bully? Not at all! Just because a youth acts out once does not mean they are bound to be cruel in every social situation. It’s likely that a bully is struggling to get something she or he wants – dominance, popularity or attention, for instance.

Each October schools and organizations across the country join together to STOMP Out Bullying by participating in National Bullying Prevention Month and National Stop Bullying Day (October 14th this year). We encourage parents, teachers and community members to work together to stop bullying and increase awareness of its prevalence and harmful effects. Simple acts like a positive message board for students or a “kindness” day can have a big impact in classrooms. Talking with kids about the effects of bullying can help them understand the power and consequences of hurtful words and actions. With education, communication and awareness we can STOMP Out Bullying, together.

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