Bullying is not just the stereotypical situations seen in movies or depicted in books. It doesn’t just affect children, and contrary to previously popular beliefs, it’s not just a harmless fact of life. Bullying is destructive, spiteful, and unacceptable in any situation. Why, then, is it so prevalent today?
Not only is it a problem of epidemic proportions among school children, but it can be difficult to avoid in the workplace. Our culture has cultivated a generation that not only tolerates bullying, but almost expects and embraces it.
Turn on the television and it’s a common occurrence, even on ‘family oriented’ programming. Bullies were once depicted as despicable; something to be hated and possibly pitied. Now, bullies are depicted by the media as cool, aggressive, charismatic people who get what they want at any expense and who are to be admired for it.
It seems that there are stories told every day about the tragic consequences of bullying. Teens and adolescents take their own lives rather than face their bullies, and families are destroyed by the consequences. Even adults aren’t safe from the effects of bullying, and there are more and more stories of bullying that leads to acts of violent crime. It might seem as though bullying really is just a fact of life, but it doesn’t have to be.
How do we put an end to this epidemic? The answer is actually simple. Just say no to bullying.
Parents, children, and anyone else affected by bullying can help make a difference by refusing to tolerate or embrace the bully lifestyle glamorized by the media. While anyone can choose to say no, it really is best that it starts at home, with parents setting the example.
By letting children know that bullying is not acceptable nor will it be tolerated, parents send two messages to their kids.
- Victims of bullying will be supported and are not alone
- Bullies aren’t welcome in healthy relationships
Parents looking for ways to prevent their child from becoming a victim of bullies, or those looking for support when their child is being bullied, often find themselves between a rock and a hard place. They want to protect their child, but they don’t want to overprotect them, making them appear weak. Making things more difficult for parents is the fact that kids don’t always want to turn to their parents for help for fear of being ridiculed by their peers and bullied further.
Is it bullying?
Parents often have to play detective to find out what is really going on with their kids. Checking up on social media interaction, text messages, and looking out for signs of bullying are important.
There are some warning signs parents should look out for that can indicate a child is being bullied.
- Unexplained bruises
- Loss of interest in friends and socializing
- Frequent complaints of headaches, stomachaches, or ‘faking it’ so they don’t have to go to school
- Sudden decline in grades, child doesn’t want to go to school anymore
- Feelings of helplessness or decrease in self-esteem
- Any self-destructive behaviors: running away, self-harming, talk of suicide
These are all serious warning signs that something is not right, so parents have to dig deeper to find out if bullying is the reason.
Some warning signs indicate that a child is becoming a bully, and in order for parents to encourage kids to say no to bullying they need to identify potential bullies in the making.
- Lack of respect for others
- Child suddenly has new things or unexplained money
- Gets into physical fights
- Doesn’t accept responsibility for their actions
- Becomes increasingly aggressive
Never underestimate the power of peer pressure; if a child spends time with other children who are bullies, they are much more likely to become one themselves. Parents need to monitor their children’s interaction with other kids, in person and in cyberspace, in order to help them make good choices about their relationships with others.
What parents can do if their child is being bullied
Parents whose suspicions that their child is being bullied have been confirmed need to take action in order to help the child or adolescent deal with the problem in the right way.
- Encourage the child to talk about it. Often, the problem seems overwhelming because they can’t imagine anyone ever understanding how they feel. Parents who have been bullied can show kids that it is possible to get through the situation and come out okay.
- Don’t tell the child to ‘toughen up’ or just deal with the situation. Bullying is unacceptable and needs to be dealt with.
- Praise the child for being brave enough to discuss the situation. Offer advice on how to handle the bullying.
- Speak to the teacher about the situation. With younger kids, a change in seating in the classroom or extra monitoring at break times can be all that is needed to end the problem. Chances are if one child is being bullied, there are other victims, too.
- Take all threats of violence against the child seriously. If a teen is being bullied, parents may have to involve the police if the bully has threatened to harm or kill the victim.
Encouraging the child who is being bullied to learn new coping techniques is also useful. Some helpful tips parents can offer their children are:
- Use the buddy system. Stay in groups and stick with friends who support the child.
- Ignore the bully. Giving them a reaction also gives them power, and bullies often lose interest when they don’t get the reaction they want.
- Talk about it. Tell kids to speak to a trusted adult if they are being bullied at school or anywhere else.
What parents of bullies can do
Parents who discover that their child is becoming a bully have to get involved and show the child that the behavior is not acceptable, but they can’t do it in an aggressive or angry way. That would indicate to the child that violence and aggression are acceptable. Instead, try these tips for communicating with a would-be bully.
- Set a good example. Let the child see that they can be successful without becoming a bully.
- Praise good behavior and appropriate social interaction with their peers.
- Stay involved. Know who their friends are and what they get up to when they are away from home. If they are spending time with bully children, they are likely to become bullies, too.
- Stress that bullying will not be tolerated at home, school, or anywhere else. Explain why it’s important to respect other people and why bullying is a bad thing.
- Consider getting outside help. If a child has a history of violent behavior, a therapist may be able to help with anger management.
Offset the effects of bullying
Children who are bullied often develop self-esteem issues that last long into adulthood. The scars of bullying aren’t just physical; the emotional scars can be deep and devastating. Likewise, children who are bullies don’t have the opportunity to learn how to develop healthy relationships. They often have a hard time coping as adults when they can’t bully others to get their own way.
Parents can do a lot to help kids erase some of this damage by being involved and encouraging the right kinds of behavior.
- Make the home environment as welcoming and stress free as possible. Kids who are bullied at school shouldn’t have to deal with aggression at home, too. Plus, if a child is bullying others, he needs to see a positive role model at home in order to learn appropriate behaviors.
- Encourage kids to get involved in something that they are good at. It promotes higher self-esteem, reducing the likelihood of bullying for both the victim and the aggressors.
- Use the resources available. There are many excellent online resources and books that can help both parents and kids learn to say no to bullying. School counselors and teachers are also good resources. They are trained to help kids deal with these situations and can also help parents, too.
- Therapists and counselors can help children who are displaying bully behavior learn to deal with their anger and aggression issues in a healthier way.
While it may be difficult or even impossible to control how media influences today’s children, parents can influence the way bullying is perceived by showing kids that it’s not acceptable or appropriate behavior. By not tolerating bullying, supporting bullied victims, and setting a good example, parents can help undo the damage that bullying is doing to society. Just say no to bullying, and say yes to a better future for everyone.