Recent studies show that up to half of all children have been bullied in the past year, with other research indicating up to 10 per cent of all children are bullied on a weekly basis. There are important differences between school-yard conflicts and the more sinister type of bullying. What can you do if you discover your child is a victim?
Bullying comes from a desire to hurt others that is acted out and results in the actual hurting of others. It is human nature to "think" about hurting others when one is wronged but the majority of people stop short of acting on their thoughts. However, when you take those thoughts to the final step of overt aggression, you are a bully.
Bullying behavior can be in the form of physical violence, verbal assault, or emotional bullying. It may surprise you to learn that girls are more likely than boys to use emotional or "indirect" bullying - such as spreading rumors - to isolate an individual from the group and make them a target for more aggressive bullying.
There is always a power imbalance involved in such groups, with one person more dominant either physically or verbally. In some cases the imbalance may take the form of a group of aggressors focusing their attention on one individual.
Typically, the bullying is repetitive. For the dominating party, bullying brings a sense of triumph and pleasure especially if they can manipulate others to join in against the target. It gives them power, something or someone they can control and victimize over and over.
If your child is a victim, a major impact is an immediate loss of self esteem.
Feelings of being humiliated, anxiety about likely recurrence of attack and depression are not uncommon, even the tendency to think about killing oneself to escape the pain and humiliation. Suicidal thoughts or attempts are much more common in children who are victims of bullying.
In a 10-year study of 38,000 schoolchildren, it was found that absenteeism was higher in bullied children, forcing some children to convince their parents to allow them to change schools while others took up home schooling to avoid unwanted harassment.
In what appears to be a contradiction, in some cases the level of work at school deteriorates, but in other cases the opposite occurs. Bullied children find themselves isolated so they find safety in libraries or in special projects that do not require them to interact with other students. Another major side effect of bullying is a negative impact on general health. Children break out in rashes and mouth sores brought on by stress.
Victims of bullies may even become very skilled bullies themselves. This is a phenomena we see amongst adults who abuse others. They likely were victims of abuse as children and have come to accept such behavior as normal for them.
But the good news is bullying, if addressed at an early stage can be nipped in the bud. Experts agree that schools, rather than parents (who can make the situation worse for the victim by confronting the school or perpetrator on the child's behalf and compounding their sense of helplessness), are best placed to deal with bullying.
Though one-on-one counseling can help a victim become more assertive, and inform a bully that their behavior is inappropriate, active involvement of the school that includes teachers and Guidance Counselors is the first step.
What can the School actually do?
A system needs to be established where students are encouraged to report bullying in a confidential and easy manner, without being judged. School staff needs to be educated so they can spot bullying and victims. Situations that leave students easy targets for bullies should be identified and eliminated. School officials should consult with parents, community groups, police officials and students to develop an anti-bullying program. As an education tool, develop advice/information pamphlets to be distributed to students and faculty.
If the school is not doing anything about the bullying, complain to the Department of Education or get legal advice.
Here are some of the warning signs that your child is being bullied:
1. A reluctance to go to school.
2. Complaints of stomach aches and headaches.
3. Decreased interest in school.
4. Drop in school performance.
5. Asking to be accompanied or driven to school.
6. Changing their travel route if walking to school.
7. Damaged school equipment, school clothes.
8. Difficulty sleeping, bed-wetting or nightmares.
9. Coming home hungry, asking for extra lunch money or having money go missing in the home.
10. Social withdrawal, moody or irritable behavior.
11. In extreme cases, talking about having no friends or threatening to harm themselves.
What can you do as a parent?
Listen to your child and make it clear that it is not their fault they are being bullied. Inform their teachers and insist of action to stop the bully. If the bullying is physical or violent, tell school officials not to tell the bully your name. That could make them angrier, and then s/he might escalate the bullying, even targeting your family at home. Talk to other parents, or a support group, about strategies that might help.
Help your child develop strategies to deal with the bullying. These include communication skills and assertiveness. Encourage the implementation of these strategies. Help them to find ways to change things - help them to see what they can change. Become aware of your own reactions. Your children should not be expected to handle bullying on their own.
Left unchecked and without treatment, bullying poses significant long-term health risks for both the victim and perpetrator.
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Jim DeSantis is an Internet Publisher and retired Pastoral Counslor who provides access to resources for parents of bullied children. Visit Jim's blog, here - www.answersplus.info and click "Bully No More".
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