You know that first minute when you’re looking at your newborn bleary eyed and vow that nobody will dare mess with your child, because then they’ll have to mess with you?
Then you send your daughter to school. With strangers. Adults and children you don’t know, and you hope and pray they’ll take care of your child like the treasure he is.
One day, your little one comes home with a teary face. “Someone hurt me.”
Like my daughter did. “Mommy, Gina hit me.”
According to a national survey commissioned by Care.com, bullying and cyberbullying have eclipsed kidnapping as parents’ greatest fear.
Is there any wonder why? Just take a look at some of the stats. 1 in 4 children are bullied each month in the USA. Every 7 minutes a child is bullied. 160,000 kids miss school each day from fear of bullying. 1 in 10 children drops out of school due to bullying. Nearly one in three parents of children ages 12-17 agree that bullying is a more serious concern than other dangers, including domestic terrorism, car accidents, and suicide.
The only way we can change this is if we get involved. If you, and I and all of us take action, we can stop the bullying.
“I’m not in Congress, I don’t set school policy. Heck, I’m not even a teacher. I’m a worried parent who wants my child to grow up safe and strong. How do we that?” you ask?
Here’s what to focus on:
The Prevalence of Bullying and Cyberbullying
Bullying takes different forms at different ages, growing in complexity and subtlety as students develop. Physical violence is the prevalent form of bullying among children. This abuse typically evolves into verbal or social bullying as students mature, often with one or more bullies excluding or manipulating their victim through several mediums. The popularity of social media has made this form of bullying more prevalent, as technology-based platforms allow perpetrators to share hurtful words and images anonymously.
Common Forms of Bullying
|Saying or writing mean things. This is the most common form of bullying, often starting in elementary school and peaking in middle school. Examples:
|Making someone feel excluded or humiliated. This behavior is often carried out by a group and can be especially hard to recognize. Examples:
|Hitting, kicking, or threatening to hurt someone. This is the easiest form of bullying to identify and it often starts in preschool. Examples:
|Writing mean or inappropriate things online. Examples:
Source: What Parents Should Know About Bullying
Why and Where Do Kids Bully?
Bullies have various motivations. Some of the most cited causes of bullying are linked to social, cultural, and familial factors. These potential sources of aggressive behavior generally manifest themselves in children with underdeveloped problem-solving skills. This may cause them to resort to bullying in an attempt to deal with a distressing situation, embarrassment, or the need to feel in control.
Bullying can happen anywhere, but usually occurs when students have a lack of direct supervision: on the playground, during classroom activities, or on the school bus. As students grow older, bullying flourishes in isolated and unsupervised spaces. Technology in particular may encourage aggressive behavior, as students can bully others anonymously through websites, social media, apps, and instant messaging.
The Victims of Bullying
Bullies often target those who are perceived as weak or people with less-developed social skills. According to The Youth Voice Project, students most often reported being bullied for their looks (55%), body shape (37%), and race (16%). Students who identify or are perceived as LGBTQ also have a higher risk of being bullied; the National School Climate Survey reported that 31.8% of LGBTQ students missed at least one entire day of school in the past month because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable due to bullying at school. Victims bullied because of their image, ethnic background, sexual orientation, or otherwise are often targeted because they appear different in some way.
Of all children who are bullied, more than one third reported bias-based bullying, a form of bullying that targets someone because of who they are or what they look like. Potential victims include LGBTQ youth, students with disabilities, and religious students, especially those who wear symbols of their religion. Students with a higher risk of being bullied are often targeted because of their visible appearance, as physical differences often incite teasing.
- LGBT Students: Youth identifying or perceived as LGBTQ are considered at high risk for bullying. Among students who identity as LGBTQ, 81.9% were bullied within the last year, and most reported feeling unsafe because of their sexual orientation.
- Students with Disabilities: Children with disabilities are two to three times more likely to be bullied than nondisabled children. This form of bullying can be especially dangerous because victims may be defenseless against the perpetrators and may have a harder time communicating about the bullying to others.
- Religious Students: Twenty-five percent of children are bullied because of their religion. Bullying students because of their religion may have less to do with one’s beliefs and more to do with misinformation or negative perceptions about religion, or how adherents express their beliefs.
- Girls and Young Women: Girls and young women are targeted due to body image or sexuality, and are more often harassed over social media. Girls are more likely than boys to be victims of cyberbullying; bullying statistics show that 38% of girls who use social media report being bullied online, compared to 26% of boys.
Bullying does not end after high school. In fact, 22% of college students report being cyberbullied and 15% experience traditional bullying. Freshman and students in the Greek system may experience bullying or hazing in college — both in person and through cyberbullying. Students in college who bully use technology in particular, as it is widely used across campuses and can be done anonymously.
Apps like Yik Yak, for example, contribute to the problem. The app allows users to anonymously create, view, and up- or down-vote “yaks” within a 10-mile radius, creating threads of popularity-based gossip. These campus-centered apps, combined with the rampant use of social media and hazing, fuels bullying across college campuses.
The Effects of Bullying
Bullying directly affects the victims, but also impacts entire communities. Victims may feel anger, depression, and anxiety, both short- and long-term. If the bullying continues, victims may in turn lash out. When schools, organizations, and groups do not address bullying, it can make others — not just the direct victims of bullying — feel insecure and unsafe, and they may ultimately have trouble learning.
As bullies hurt others, they also hurt themselves. Adolescents who bully often do not learn how to express themselves maturely, and as a result they develop higher rates of aggression, violence, and antisocial behavior. Their lack of behavioral skills are detrimental years later, as bullies often perform poorly in school, and have high rates of smoking, depression, violence, and drunk driving.
The Role of the Bystander
Bystanders witness bullying incidents and can choose to ignore or intervene. Bystanders who intervene are typically able to break up the situation. Those who discourage the bully, defend the target, or gather attention from peers stop nearly 60% of bullying incidents. Students who do not intervene often view the incident as a problem, but are unsure how to respond. Watching someone get bullied can instill feelings of fear and powerlessness, which can cause bystanders to ignore the situation or side with the bully.
If you or someone you know is being bullied and needs immediate help, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline online or at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
- Cyberbullying Research Center
- Embrace Civility
Bullying in College
- Bullying on College Campuses
Help for LGBT Students
Stories about Bullying
1. Understand What Exactly is Bullying
Bullying is a form of emotional or physical abuse that has three defining characteristics:
- Deliberate – a bully’s intention is to hurt someone
- Repeated – the behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time
- Power Imbalanced – a bully chooses victims he or she perceives as vulnerable
These three aspects must be included for a behavior to be labeled bullying.
There are many behaviors that look like bullying but require different approaches. It is important to determine whether the situation is bullying or something else. State law and school policy may have additional guidelines for defining bullying behavior.
In fact, the number of reports of Kentucky public school student bullying, harassing, or threatening others more than tripled from 2012 to 2015 due to changed criteria. So all that fine print really can make a difference.
Bullying occurs in many different forms, with varying levels of severity. It may involve:
- Physical Bullying – poking, pushing, hitting, kicking, beating up
- Verbal Bullying – yelling, taunting, name-calling, insulting, threatening to harm
- Relational Bullying – excluding, spreading rumors, getting others to hurt someone
- Cyberbullying – Sending hurtful messages or images by Internet or cell phone
Bullying can also be any combination of these. Both kids who are bullied and who bully others may have serious, lasting problems.
2. Recognize Signs of Bullying
Children have many reasons for not telling adults about bullying situations.
- They are ashamed of being bullied.
- They are afraid of retaliation.
- They don’t think anyone can or will help.
- They have bought into the lie that being bullied is part of growing up.
- Children who are also bullied by adult may believe that they are permitted to be bullied.
- They have learned that “ratting” is not cool.
Although children do not tell us outright, they do give us clues.
According to Dr. Joel Haber, bullying expert and author of Bullyproof Your Child for Life, your child could be a victim of bullying if he/she:
- Is reluctant or refuses to go to school
- Clams up when you try to discuss school
- Demands some sort of change in a long-standing routine, like riding the bus to school or going to the park on Saturdays
- Does not want to participate in after-school activities or play with old friends
- Seems hungrier than usual after school – it might be a sign that someone is stealing his lunch money or that he is unwilling to brave the cafeteria at lunchtime
- Shows signs of physical distress such as headaches, stomach-aches, or nausea
- Goes to the nurse in order to avoid going to class
- Performance in school (grades, homework, attendance) suddenly declines
- Acts sullen, angry, and frequently wants to be left alone
- Uncharacteristically uses bad language
- Shows marked behavior change after computer time or a phone call
- Starts asking for more lunch or transportation money without a clear explanation of why it is needed
- Has unexplained bruises or injuries
What if your child is the bully? Although you don’t want to see your child acting mean, it is important to know the signs that your child may be bullying:
- Lack of empathy
- Needs to be in control
- Underdeveloped social and interpersonal skills
- Seems to derive pleasure from pain and suffering of others
- Attacks before others can attack
- Has been bullied by peer, sibling, or parent
- Is exclusive – refuses to include certain kids in play or study
- Persists in certain unpleasant behavior even after you have told him/her to stop
- Is very concerned with being and staying popular
- Seems intolerant of and/or shows contempt for children who are “different” or “weird”
- Frequently teases or taunts other children
- Constantly plays extremely aggressive videogames
- Hurts animals
- Observes you excluding, gossiping about, or otherwise hurting others: As human beings, we occasionally exhibit some bullying behaviors. It’s only natural and it doesn’t mean we’re bad people. But think about your own behavior and ask – do your kids also show these traits?
3. Talk About Bullying
It’s not only you who needs to know about bullying, this is something you want your child to know about before s/he ever has to confront it.
How can you start the conversation? Check out these resources, and decide which one would be best to explore with your child.
- Mcgruff.org provides resources for adults and children looking to stop bullying and educate others about bullying issues.
- PACER Kids Against Bullying is an educational site designed for elementary school students to learn about bullying prevention, engage in activities, and be inspired to take action.
- Stopbullying.gov offers information, videos and games for children.
4. Know Your Child’s Rights
Children can be picked on for so many different reasons. Here are some that are common:
- Ethnic group
Do you know the laws of your state?
All states have laws that protect bullying, harassment, and intimidation in school. With a clear definitions, schools must enforce uniform standards of conduct. When a school finds out that harassment may have occurred, staff must investigate the incident(s) promptly and respond appropriately. With state law, schools cannot turn a blind eye to bullying.
Does your child have a disability, food allergy, or other special health need? Know his rights. Make sure his IEP includes a plan to protect your child from bullying. Keep an eye out for signs that your child is being bullied-by children, or even unfortunately by staff. Bullying behavior may cross the line to become “disability harassment,” which is prohibited under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
5. Model Positive Social Behavior
The most effective way to keep children from being bullied, and from becoming bullies, is to make sure they grow up in loving relationships. Robert Fulgham succinctly put it, “Don’t worry that your children never listen to you. Worry that they are always watching you.”
Children learn both sides of every relationship, and they can act either one. Model positive parenting. If your discipline methods use power over your child, he will learn to use power over others, or to let others use power over him.
Click herefor our free ‘How to Be a Positive Parent’ mini-course.
7. The Bystander: Teach Kids to Prevent Bullying When They See It
Bullying expert Michele Borba says that when bystanders — kids who are nearby — intervene correctly, studies find they can cut bullying more than half the time and within 10 seconds.
Your child will witness bullying at some point. Teach them what to do.
Partner with the victim and remove her from danger: Go stand with the victim physically, turn the victim away from the bully and walk her off in the other direction — towards adult help. Say “You look upset” or “I’ve been looking for you” or “The teacher sent me to find you.”
Get help: Bullies love an audience. Get the other kids on your side by waving them over to you, yelling, “We need your help.” Confront the bully: “You’re being mean.” Then walk away: “C’mon, let’s go!”
And of course, if you’re at all worried about safety, dial 911 or shout for a teacher.
8. Coach Your Child to Handle Teasing and Bullying
Research shows that bullies begin with verbal harassment. How the “victim” responds to the first verbal aggression determines whether the bully continues to target this particular child.
- Roleplay with your child is a great way to prepare them to stand up to a bully. Knowing your child well can help you decide how to best do this. Point out to your child that the bully wants to provoke a response that makes him feel powerful, so showing emotion and fighting back are exactly what the bully feeds off. Explain that he can always control his own response. How s/he responds may exaggerate the situation or defuse it. Practice until your child is confident in handling difficult situations.
- The best strategy is always to respond evenly and firmly, maintaining the dignity of all children involved. Prepare your child with simple phrases that are direct and not antagonistic: “You know, I’m just going to ignore that comment.” “Don’t do that.” “No.” “Well, that’s what you think.” Then walk away.
- Teach your child to act brave, look the bully in the eye, and say one of these things. Practice until your child has a strong, self-assured tone.
- Assert by standing tall and using a strong voice. “Stop making fun of me. It’s mean.”
- Agree with the teaser. Consider helping your child create a statement agreeing with her teaser. Teaser: “Hey, four eyes.” Child: *Shrugs* “Yep, my eyesight is poor.”
- Ignore it. Bullies love it when their teasing upsets their victims, so help your child find a way to not let his tormentor get to him. Children offer these kid-tested ways to ignore teasers: “Pretend they’re invisible,” “Walk away without looking at them,” “Quickly look at something else and laugh,” and “Look completely uninterested.”
If your child is being bullied:
- Assure the child that you believe them and that they are not alone with this problem.
- Affirm that this is not their fault.
- Establish that there are things that you can doand develop a plan.
- Report the bullying to school personnel.
Take action when your child says bullied. Work as a team. Assess immediate safety, demand action, get involved, and stay on top of it.
9. When Your Child is the Bully
Nobody sets out to be the parent of a mean kid. But what do you do when you get a phone call that your child bullied? Rosalind Wiseman , author of Queen Bees and Wannabees urges parents to understand:
Roles change. Today the bullied. Tomorrow, the bully. Children are not fixed in their roles. Depending on the situation, children can just as easily be the bully as they can the target.
They have a private life. Parents must assume and accept that they won’t know everything that goes on with their child.
Kids have 2 sides. Children will act differently at home than they will at school. Your 7th grade son who kisses you goodnight before grabbing his stuffed animal will never show that side of himself to his friends.
You’re still a good parent. There are many reasons why parents aren’t aware of their child’s inappropriate behavior, and it’s not because the parent is irresponsible.
What to do if your child is the bully?
10 Get Involved
- Talk to your child’s school. Implement educational programs. Do they have an anti-bullying curriculum? Here are some you can suggest:
- Increase public awareness. Hold a meeting about bullying. Invite parents, teachers, school personnel and the media. Not a speaker? Invite an author of a bullying book or an educator to talk.
- Ensure your child’s school has consistent school rules and policies about bullying that are implemented and followed through.
- Is there supervision in high risk areas? Some ideas to offer:
- Parent volunteers
- Older peer leaders
- Student council
Characteristics of bullies
- Tend to have problems at home
- May be the victim of aggressive behavior or abuse at home
- Receive inconsistent discipline and/or poor supervision at home
- Tend to be aggressive, self-confident and lacking in empathy
Characteristics of victims
- Tend to be quiet, passive children who don’t have many friends
- Tend to be smaller in size and/or physically weaker than the bully
The problem of bullying is widespread and is often cited as a contributing factor in the recent cases of school shootings. According to the National Resource Center for Safe Schools in Portland, Oregon, 30% of American children are regularly involved in bullying, either as bullies or victims, and approximately 15% are “severely traumatized or distressed” as a result of encounters with bullies. Researchers agree that children who bully in childhood are more likely to become violent adults and engage in criminal behavior; victims of bullies often suffer from anxiety, low self-esteem and depression as they grow into adulthood.
Statistics on bullying
According to Indicators of School Crime and Safety, 2007, a report issued by the Justice Department and the Department of Education, in 2005:
- 28% of students, 12- to 18-years-old, reported that they had been bullied sometime in the prior six months.
- 11% reported that someone at school had used hate-related words against them.
- 9% were bullied by being pushed, tripped or spit upon.
Other studies indicate that:
- 60% of students identified as bullies in grades 6 to 9 had at least one criminal conviction by age 24.
- Bullies are at even greater risk of suicide than their targets.
- About two-thirds of students involved in school shootings say they had felt persecuted, bullied or threatened by others.
- School-based intervention programs can reduce bullying by 30% to 50%.
Four myths about bullying
- Victims are responsible for bringing bullying on themselves.
- Bullying is just a normal part of childhood.
- Bullies will stop if you just ignore them.
- Victims need to learn to stand up for themselves.
What should my child’s school be doing to address bullying?
Look for a positive, supportive atmosphere where students know that bullying will not be tolerated, where students know they can go to adults for help, and where there are clear consequences for bullying. An ongoing commitment to promoting this kind of school environment is key. An effective technique used in many schools is to have each class develop its own code of conduct.
Here’s the code of conduct that one class wrote:
- We don’t want any hitting, punching or kicking.
- We don’t want any name-calling or put-downs.
- We include everyone when we do group activities.
- We help others when they are bullied.
Teachers and staff should be on the alert and should intervene when they see bullying occur. They should be aware that bullies often try to operate in places that are not in direct public view, such as school bathrooms or locker rooms. Some schools hold assemblies to present the topic of bullying, but these one-shot efforts have not been proven to be as effective as a consistent, ongoing school-wide effort to combat bullying.
What Kids Can Do:
- Don’t bully: This seems like the most obvious tip, but it isn’t always easy to separate “bullies” and “victims.” The same child may bully or be bullied. The same child who sees bullying happening may or may not participate in some way. It’s much better to understand “bully” as an action someone does, not who someone is. Empathy, patience and understanding are skills that help keep kids from bullying and qualities everyone can improve. Practicing alternatives to aggression reduces violence and deters risk factors for bigger problems in adulthood.
- Don’t help bully: Often, more than one child will engage in bullying behavior. An “assistant” might encourage bullying and even join in. “Almost bystanders” may join in by making fun of the victim, making a power imbalance worse and allowing the bullying to persist. Some children don’t think much of bullying that doesn’t involve physical harm or threats of violence, but words can hurt just as much as a punch, and exclusion can be as harmful as a shove. The equation looks like this: aggression+power=bullying; and a kid can do a lot simply by not adding to the power of a bully or contributing to an aggressive atmosphere. Be nice!
- Respect self and others: Adults are always reminding kids and young adults about the power of respect. Bullying requires a power imbalance and aggression; however, respect builds fairness and kindness instead. Respect is the anti-bully. Self-respect reminds a person to stand up for what is right and to take the high ground even if it’s hard. It also means doing enjoyable things and spending time with likable people. Respect for others helps kids treat everyone else how they want to be treated, which makes it hard to bully and easy to stand up to protect someone more vulnerable. A little confidence and a few friends can go a long way to stop bully behavior.
- Be bully-proof: There is no way to be completely “bully-proof,” but there are ways to defuse aggression and avoid many bullying situations. Sometimes clearly and calmly asking a person to stop a specific behavior actually works! Another tactic is the “shake it off” response or to “laugh it off.” The child who bullies feels a sense of power in the victim’s frustration and rage. If a victim acts unfazed, it may be enough to put a stop to things. If that doesn’t work, it is usually possible to get away and stay away and talk to a trusted adult. Children who bully often behave better around adults and others, and routinely have favorite private places where they like to bully. These are places a possible victim can avoid. A child may feel it stinks to change behavior because of someone else’s unkindness, but sometimes it’s easier and diffuses the situation over time.
- Talk with an adult: It is the job of adults to keep children safe. Every child should have at least one or two safe adults to go to when they feel unsafe or something happens that hurts them. A lot of times it is a parent or teacher, but it could be any number of adults. A lot of bullying victims are afraid of telling in case their report gets back to the bully. They fear retaliation, being labeled a “snitch” or worry the bullying will increase. Adults who work with children are usually very knowledgeable about this, and have incredible ways to address a bullying problem discreetly. But there is no need to wait until there is a problem to talk to a grown up; sometimes talking with trusted adults builds esteem and confidence so that a young person has a plan to deal with bullying before he/she ever encounters it.
What Parents Can Do
- Don’t bully: Is it ridiculous to tell parents and caregivers “don’t bully?” Not really. Compassion starts with the person in the mirror, and conflict resolution is a skill that adults teach through their actions. When an adult listens to a child and shows they value the child’s input, it builds a stronger shared understanding, helps instill confidence and nurtures self-respect. If patience and understanding aren’t a parent’s strong suit, there are always resources available to help strengthen those skills. The important thing is for parents to support and protect their children.
- Encourage enrichment: In school and out of school, there are plenty of non-classroom opportunities for children to build skills and friendships. Sports, clubs, church groups, online games, events, libraries and museums all offer opportunities for children to succeed while nurturing relationships with peers and trusted adults. While these types of activities can also be where bullying happens, the sense of confidence and social efficacy they instill are important. Discipline, creativity, body health, teamwork, joy and problem solving all add up to powerful bullying prevention, and can help a victim feel more empowered and resilient.
- Nurture positive relationships: A child’s most important relationship is with his or her parent or caregiver, but there are relationships throughout a parent’s life and child’s life that help protect against bullying. A parent or caregiver should open up opportunities to enrich safe, supportive relationships with others, both children and adults. This means making time for kids to visit and play. It also means demonstrating healthy friendships through communication and quality time. Parents and caregivers should be sure to keep in touch with their child’s teacher and other adults in his or her life too. Strong networks of friends and relatives make a child less likely to become a perpetrator of bullying or a victim, but also provide a source of support should bullying happen.
- Listen: Children often have a funny way of telling parents and guardians about trouble they are facing. Sometimes they keep things from adults to protect other children (even one who bullies). It’s important for adults to show children that they trust them, and it’s important for adults to keep track of what is going on in their child’s social life. Sometimes names of classmates just rush by, and it’s hard to keep up, but sometimes the same name or set of names emerge as either friend or foe. Attentive listening can help a parent aid their child before bullying even comes up, and it can also empower a parent to better help a child deal with bullying issues and keep everyone safe.
- Act Fast: When bullying happens — whether a parent’s child is the one bullying or the victim of bullying — it’s important to act fast, before things become a pattern or spiral out of control. Parents should always encourage their child to tell a trusted adult about bullying as soon as they experience it or see it. It is best if a parent or caregiver does not go directly to the other child’s parents, and certainly not to the other child. It is most effective to talk to the adult in charge of the site where the bullying happens, whether a teacher, a club leader or a coach. Work with these adults on the appropriate response, and don’t be afraid to “escalate” the issue to a principal or director should things not improve. If things get increasingly serious, it is a good idea to document what is happening. It may even be necessary to take more drastic steps to ensure your child’s safety, like removing him or her from the setting, but usually it can be solved before that.
With the increasingly important role of online technology, cyberbullying is a growing threat. Most of the tips outlined above can be considered in dealing with cyberbullying, but we encourage parents and children to visit stopbullying.gov for more on this issue and more information on preventing bullying and reporting it.