Is your child being bullied in school?
Bullying is a major problem affecting our school-age children. Surveys indicate that as many as 50% have been bullied at some time during their school years, and at
least 10% endure this treatment on a regular basis. Millions of children across all races, religions and classes are being affected. Now that this has been officially recognized as a problem, schools, school boards and the general population have come to realize that it is one with dire consequences, not just for the victims, but also for the perpetrators, their respective families and for society as a whole.
What Is Bullying?
Bullying, defined as intentionally and consistently speaking or acting in ways that are hurtful to another person, is a serious societal issue. Victims are those who are repeatedly picked on by individuals or groups who have greater power in physical strength or social standing. People in popular groups might pick on those they categorize as different by shunning, gossiping or spreading rumors, or by taunting and teasing.
Who Gets Bullied?
It’s not easy to identify a victim. Unless your child tells you or has bruises or injuries, it can be difficult to determine that this is occurring. However, parents must be alert to the warning signs in their children. The readily observable signs are the easy ones. They might include cuts or bruises; stolen or damaged clothing, belongings, books or homework assignments; unwillingness to travel on a bus or train to/from school; and an unwillingness to participate in school activities or sports.
More subtle warning signs include:
• Change in behavior; appearing anxious, nervous or depressed without any apparent cause
• Difficulty sleeping
• Loss of appetite
• Moodiness or becoming more easily upset than usual
• Avoidance of certain situations or locations, such as the cafeteria, playground, bathroom, or unsupervised hallways at school
Who Are These Bullies?
Just as children of all ages, races, religions and classes can be victims, so too can they be bullies. Boys generally resort to physical intimidation, regardless of the gender of the victim. Girls generally attack verbally, and make other girls their targets. They might snub another girl, encourage exclusion or threaten to withdraw a friendship in an effort to maintain control.
You may wonder how to identify a bully. What qualities characterize his/her behavior and personality? What drives this menacing behavior? The bully may:
• Appear outgoing and aggressive
• Start malicious rumors just to see what will happen
• Appear reserved on the surface, while being manipulative in subtle, deceptive ways
• Take attention off him/herself by dominating and controlling others
• Feel upset or angry regarding home life where anger, intimidation and physical force are common
Often bullies grow up to be spouse abusers; they have shorter, less productive lives and unfortunately often teach their children the same patterns that they have embraced throughout their lives. Another chilling fact is that one out of every four elementary school bullies will have a criminal record by the time they turn 30!
Where Does It Take Place?
Schools provide an optimal environment for harassment because they house a captive population of potential victims and areas with little to no adult supervision, such as long hallways and far corners of playgrounds. While it is a basic right for students to feel safe and to be safe at school, often they are not.
This behavior doesn’t necessarily end when children leave school grounds. The transition from school grounds to cyberspace is all too easy these days, as our kids spend more and more time online. With cell phones for texting and social networking for “friending” and “unfriending,” cyberspace tormenting of a victim can occur 24 hours a day, any time and any place. The child victim is often alone when experiencing electronic hazing, but knows that indeed the whole world could be watching the humiliation and shame.
Ramifications of Bullying
For victims, the ramifications of this abuse include low self-esteem; heightened stress as evidenced through depression or anxiety; health issues such as irritable bowel syndrome, insomnia, ulcers; and/or a deterioration of school performance. Some victims will attempt suicide rather than endure harassment or punishment.
People often say that “Kids will be kids; they’ll outgrow this.” However, psychologists who have studied and become experts on this problem have recognized that those who exhibit “bully” behavior patterns share some common traits that have contributed to this problem. They deal with situations differently than other children, as exhibited by their behavior:
• They may perceive slights where none exist
• They haven’t learned ways to deal with negative emotions other than through physical aggression
• They haven’t learned appropriate ways to deal with conflict and stress
• They may exhibit poor social skills and judgment, and lack empathy
• They tend to dominate others while focusing on themselves
According to psychologists with years of experience in family counseling and therapy, and who have become society’s experts on this problem, a large part of the onus for policing their grounds will fall on the schools. They need to implement more programs to enforce “no toleration” policies and must provide safe ways for victims or witnesses to report it.
For their part, parents need to learn, teach and model healthy ways of managing anger and conflict. If they need assistance, family counseling is readily accessible around the country, both in the private sector, as well as through public health agencies and the schools.
Understanding the serious social costs of bullying and how to deal with it are vital components in our efforts to keep our children safe as they make the long journey to adulthood.
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