One of a parent’s greatest concerns is their child will be bullied while at school or play. A bully can turn a harmless event such as going to the bus stop or having lunch in the cafeteria into a nightmare. Of course, bullying doesn’t just happen on the school ground. For older teens, there can be more serious ramifications that may involve cyber stalking, violent threats, property damage, and even bodily injury.
What defines a bully?
At first glance, this might seem like an easy question. Most people equate a bully with a larger child beating up a smaller one. However, bullying is a lot more complex and dissimilar than the stereotype. More and more frequently bullies are stalking their victims through text messaging, chat rooms, and e-mails, as well as spreading malicious rumors on social media sites.
In a Fox News report last year, Tommy Walser, founder of the non-profit organization The Bullying Academy, said that kids were picked on for a wide variety of reasons that included socio-economic status, gender, sexual orientation, race or ethnicity and religious background. Children were also bullied for their appearance or interests. “Bullies will search for any perceived difference between the target and themselves that they can exploit,” Walser stated.
Whether or not bullying is currently an issue in your household, it’s important to talk about it with your child so they will be prepared and feel safe turning to you for help. Being the victim of bullying and physical aggression can have damaging long-term effects if the situation is not handled correctly.
Warning signs of bullying:
Although not every child will display signs of being bullied, here are some red flags that may indicate a problem:
- Loss of interest in sports or school activities
- Refuses to go to school or has had a decline in school work
- Persistent stomach aches, headaches or other physical complaints
- Frequent nightmares and/or difficulty going to sleep
- Change in eating habits such as skipping meals or binge eating
- Unexplained bruises or injuries
- Loss or damage to personal items such as toys, clothing, money, electronics, etc.
- Decreased self-esteem and/or loss of friends
- Self-destructive behaviors such as running away from home, engaging in risky behavior, or recurring thoughts of suicide or death
What to do if you suspect bullying:
More often than not, kids will not tell anyone about the bullying incidents mainly due to fear of reprisal. Also, shame and humiliation add to the situation making a child feel even more isolated.
- If you think your child is being bullied, encourage him to talk about his fears and concerns. Let him know you are there to support him and help work through this problem together.
- If he still will not talk to you, watch his reactions and body language. You know your child better than anyone and can read a lot more into his silence.
- Teach your child how to respond to the bullying by remaining calm and walking away. Recommend that she stick with a friend or group while on the bus or in the lunch room. There is safety in numbers and bullies typically seek out kids who appear to be isolated.
- Arrange a conference with a trusted adult who regularly interacts with your child such as a teacher, coach or youth director. Perhaps one of your child’s close friends or classmates can shed some light on the situation.
- If your child has been threatened or physically attacked, contact school officials immediately to determine if the local police should be involved. Be persistent, especially if the bullying seems to continue.
- Encourage your child to participate in social activities that will raise her self-esteem and help develop healthy friendships.
Finally, seek counseling through a qualified mental health professional so that your child’s anxiety doesn’t become overwhelming and self-destructive. The earlier you can help your child get a handle on this, the better his or her quality of life will be.