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September 25, 2013

Has your child, someone you know or yourself ever been bullied? Do you ever wonder why bullies do what they do?  Do you see a pattern of perpetual bullying in our society or in your own personal life? These are questions many children, adolescents, young adults, parents and professionals are faced with everyday. Bullying has been around for centuries and evidence is being discovered to help identify, prevent and treat bullying. What if your loved one is being bullied or has been a victim of humiliation, intimidation or exclusion? Have you been a bully yourself? The next question to raise is how can we help?

To start, bullying is intentional and there are ways to help. There are many roles that kids and adults can play. They can bully others, be bullied, or they may witness bullying. When they’re involved in bullying, they often play more than one role. It is important to understand the multiple roles people play in order to effectively prevent and respond to bullying. It’s also important to assess a family dynamic. For instance, a parent may have been bullied in childhood and due to the intense shame, humiliation and denial of circumstances, may be unable to show compassion to their own child later in life. Their child may reach out for help to disclose the torment and be dismissed, suspecting dishonesty. Hence, exacerbating the situation with lack of support. Many children do not report bullying to adults due to fears of how they may or may not respond and through research and development it’s been noted “a trend of not disclosing becomes more pronounced with age”.

Bullying has severe consequences which include and are not limited to: alcohol and drug use, skipping school, continued bullying, poor grades, poor work performance, low self-esteem, suicide ideation, suicide attempts and health problems. “Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children and adults that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose”.

Why do people bully?

There are multiple reasons and risk factors which may include family, community, peers and school. Children who are bullied are more likely to have: depressive symptoms, harm themselves, have high levels of suicidal thoughts or attempted suicide. They’re also more likely to avoid school and have lower academic achievement.

Children who bully others are more likely to have delinquent behaviors, dislike school, drop out of school, bring weapons to school, think of suicide and attempt suicide, drink alcohol and smoke, plus hold beliefs supportive of violence. Some claim that bullying stems from “fear and apathy”. Children involved in bullying are more likely to experience headaches, backaches, stomach pain, sleep problems, poor appetite, and bed-wetting.

There’s also bullying in the workplace and cyberbullying that have severe negative impacts on people. Per the U.S Department of Health and Human Services and a Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey in 2011, 16% of High school students (grades 9-12) were electronically bullied in the past year. Cyberbullying is rising rapidly and to capture the statistics properly is difficult to assess. Cyberbullying is different because it can happen 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and reach a kid even when he or she is alone.  Cyberbullying messages and images can be posted anonymously and distributed quickly to a wide audience. It can be difficult and sometimes impossible to trace the source. Deleting inappropriate or harassing messages, texts, and pictures is extremely difficult after they have been posted or sent.

What can you do to help prevent or stop bullying?

-Be more than a bystander! Speak up, advocate and do not tolerate unacceptable behavior.

-Frequently when people see bullying, they may not know what to do to stop it. People who witness bullying or are being bullied should always tell a trusted adult. Adults need to take action when they learn that bullying is happening.

-Remember to always be aware of the warning signs and if someone you know is in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.  Utilize community resources such as local hospital crisis teams, community resources and Suicide prevention hotlines:  1-800-273-talk (8255)

-Teachers and school administrators need to be knowledgeable and observant.  Involve students and parents, set positive expectations about behavior for students and adults, and observe your child for signs they might be being bullied.

-Children may not always be vocal about being bullied.  Signs include, but are not limited to: ripped clothing, hesitation about going to school, decreased appetite, nightmares, crying, or general depression and anxiety. If you discover your child is being bullied, don’t tell them to “let it go” or “suck it up”. Instead, have open-ended conversations where you can learn what is really going on at school so that you can take the appropriate steps to rectify the situation. Most importantly, let your child know you will help him/her and that they should avoid fighting back.

-Teach your child how to handle being bullied:  Practice scenarios at home where your child learns how to ignore a bully and/or develop assertive strategies for coping with bullying. Set boundaries with technology. Report bullying and cyberbullying.

-Don’t bully back: Try not to show anger or tears. Either calmly tell the bully to stop bullying or simply walk away.

-Avoid being alone

-Students who experience bullying may feel overwhelmed, depressed or anxious. If your child or student is having trouble at school or with friends as a result of bullying, a mental health professional, such as a psychologist, can help your child develop resilience and confidence. This will enable your child to be more successful both socially and academically.

How can you help with cyberbullying & workplace bullying?

To prevent workplace bullying, it’s important to foster improved communication skills, teach employees to understand each other, identify root causes and establish a policy of respect.

Resources:

American Psychological Association, 2013
Stopbully.gov 200 Independence Avenue, S.W. – Washington, D.C. 20201