Incidents of school violence demonstrate that bullying can have tragic consequences for individuals, families, schools and entire communities. Bullying is painful, lasting and can be related to low self-esteem, suicidal thoughts, anger, and other mental and physical health problems. Due to the increased risk of suicide associated with bullying (for victims and perpetrators alike) open dialogue and support are crucial in ensuring safety for our children.
Bullying is an aggressive behavior. It occurs when a child is targeted by one or more individuals with repeated negative actions over a period of time. These are intentional attempts to cause discomfort or injury and can include name-calling, obscene gesturing, malicious teasing, exclusion, threats, rumors, physical hitting, kicking, pushing and choking. With the growing influence of social media, cyber-bullying is also a real and growing problem today that may be experienced. Make no mistake: bullying of any kind is a form of violence that should not be tolerated.
Who are their targets?
- Those who are seen as being “different” from their peers or are “weak”, “depressed”, “less popular”, or unable to get along with peers are more likely to become victims of bullying. (https://www.stopbullying.gov/at-risk/index.html)
- Females in high school (22 percent) are twice as likely as male high school students (11 percent) to report being cyberbullied. They are also more likely to report being bullied on school property (22 percent to 18 percent). (https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/yv-datasheet-a.pdf)
- LGBTQ youth are at special risk of being bullied; up to 85 percent report having been verbally harassed, and 40 percent physically assaulted. (https://www.stopbullying.gov/file/white-house-conference-bullying)
What steps can we take to stop it?
- Start early, parent and child discussions are essential. Teach children to respect others before they start school and continue to talk about this topic on an ongoing basis. Even small acts of teasing should be stopped in their tracks.
- Teach children how to be assertive. Encourage children to express their feelings clearly, say no when they feel uncomfortable or pressured, stand up for themselves without fighting and walk away in dangerous situations.
- Stop bullying when you see it. Adults who remain silent when bullying occurs are encouraging it and making it worse.
- Telling an adult about bullying is not easy for children, listen and support children who speak up. If a child comes to you seeking assistance with bullying, spend time listening to them and provide affirmation and support before taking actions. Read through and discuss our Bullying Checklist with your child as a resource.
- Recognize the signs of depression. Youth who experience persistent bullying can develop signs of depression such as sadness, isolation, poor concentration and sleeping problems. These symptoms can affect their relationships and school performance. Many children do not recognize or speak up about their emotional needs. Make sure to reach out and get them help when you see these signs.
- Tell children to take action when they see bullying behavior. Encourage them to speak out against the bully and inform a teacher or trusted adult if the behavior doesn’t stop. Bullying continues only when we allow it to.
- Communicate clear policies and consequences. Bullying is less likely in schools where adults are involved and firm about stopping bullying behaviors. Sending out a clear message at the school that bullying will have negative consequences.
- Team up. Work with your Parent Teacher Association (PTA) or local Mental Health Association (MHA) affiliate to make sure that schools treat bullying as violence. Help them develop programs to prevent bullying and promote safe school environments.
About the Author: Lindsey Best, LCSW