For centuries, child bullying, or peer intimidation, has marred childhood memories for countless individuals. It is estimated that nearly half of all children will experience some form of bullying before the age 18. Unfortunately, the advent of advanced technology and social media, have increased that number exponentially.
So how do you know if your child is being bullied? How do you recognize if your child is bullying others? The signs aren’t always obvious. And with so many forms of intimidation now lumped under the umbrella phrase of “child bullying” it can be difficult for parents to see the signs and be proactive.
Let’s start at the beginning by defining child bullying.
According to stopbullying.gov, bullying is defined as “…unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.”
Those who bully use their power and/or dominance to control others. Children who are perceived as weak or unable to hold up for themselves are prime targets for peer on peer intimidation.
When one child has something another wants, the bully will use any means necessary to exert his or her control over the other in order to take what they feel their entitled to. Sometimes, it doesn’t even have to be a material item the bully is after, but just the satisfaction of making the other feel unworthy, belittled, or exiled from his or her peers.
There are numerous forms peer intimidation may take, from name calling to social exclusion and even physical assault.
Types of Child Bullying
There are three general types of peer intimidation: verbal, physical, and social.
Verbal bullying isn’t confined to just name calling alone; it may also include:
- inappropriate comments
Physical intimidation is considered any action that harms another’s body, such as:
When a child is socially bullied, it is his reputation and interpersonal relationships that sustain damage. Social intimidation can take a variety of forms, but the most common include:
- being ostracized
In recent years, cyber bullying has quickly become the fourth most common type of peer intimidation, or bullying, among children.
What is Cyber Bullying?
Cyber bullying is essentially the use of technology, such as the Internet or a cell phone, to intimidate, threaten, or harass another individual. Text messaging, chat rooms, and social media platforms, like Twitter and Facebook, are among the most widely used tools bullies use to harass their victims.
Among the most frequent forms of cyber intimidation include:
- hijacking or stealing another peer’s account to post derogatory, embarrassing, mean, or untrue things
- sending threatening messages
- sending rumors or lies to peers in via text messaging or email
- posing as another person to lure and hurt a peer
Unlike with other forms of bullying, when cyber bullying is initiated it can sometimes be more difficult to interpret than traditional forms of bullying.
For instance, when someone is standing in front of you making obvious attempts to exclude you from a group activity, that is much easier to recognize as intimidation than, say, a text message might be. Therefore, when it comes to cyber bullying, establishing pattern-behavior is key to proving more subtle forms of intimidation are taking place.
Although there are several signs a child may exhibit if he or she is being bullied, it is important to remember that not all children will show outward, recognizable behaviors that something is wrong.
The most common signs exhibited by a child who is being bullied are:
- falling grades/lack of interest in school
- changes in eating and/or sleeping habits
- poor self-image
- fear/anxiety about going to school
- injuries for which the child has no explanation
- destructive behavior
The effects of cyber bullying are very similar to those associated with traditional forms of bullying. In addition to the above signs, a child may also experience:
- anxiousness about getting online, and/or
- be secretive about his or her activities online
On the flip-side, children who bully their peers may also show significant behavior changes or a worsening of existing behaviors, including:
- frequent fights (verbal and/or physical)
- refusing to take responsibility for their actions
- have friends who are known bullies
- dominating or trying to control peers
- frequent disciplinary issues at school
Child Bullying Statistics
All too often, bullying is linked to additional forms of violence, from fights to children carrying weapons. Extreme cases of peer intimidation can culminate in self-harm by the child experiencing the bullying, an unfortunate trend known as bullycide.
According to the Suicide Prevention Project at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide rates among children 10 to 14 years old is increasing. And there is a correlation between self-harm and bullying. The American Association of Suicidology reports that suicides within this age group has increased nearly 50 percent in the past year alone.
The National Education Association reports that more than 150,000 students are absent from school each day for fear of being bullied. And more than 50 percent of students say they have witnessed some form of bullying while at school.
Among secondary students, the numbers are even more startling. Each month, more than 250,000 high school students are the victim of some form of physical attack.
Stories about children going to school with guns and harming their peers and school staff are all too common anymore. Nearly 75 percent of all school shootings are in some way related to bullying — either the shooter is one who has bullied others or has been bullied. Whichever side of the situation the individual is on, the motivation for taking a gun to school with the intent of using it is nearly always revenge.
Instances of bullying among children of the LGBT community is also on the rise.
In a recent study (surveying 6,000 students) conducted in 2007 by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network:
- 9 out of 10 LGBT students reported verbal harassment while at school
- More than 20 percent of students reported physical harassment
- Nearly 1/4 reported being physically assaulted
- Nearly 2/3 of students who were harassed or assaulted never reported the incident to school authorities.
Proactive Steps to Prevent Bullying
The National Education Association offers 10 steps to prevent and stop bullying for everyone to utilize, including family, parents, friends, educators, and students themselves.
- Be aware. Know the warning signs of bullying and keep communication open with children.
- Don’t assume everything is OK. If a child feel uncomfortable or says there is something wrong, don’t brush it off. Take a child’s concerns seriously and speak with them about it.
- Intervene. If you witness an act of intimidation do something about it and don’t allow the situation to escalate. If needed, get another adult involved to help defuse the situation.
- Stay calm. Once the situation is defused, remain calm and lead by example. Show respect and take the individuals to separate safe areas to talk about what’s going on.
- Bystanders are accountable. Bullies thrive on having an audience. Make sure those who witness the bullying understand the behavior is wrong and that it should be (and can be) reported without repercussions.
- Keep an open mind. Try not to judge the parties engaged in the bullying. Aside from a child lashing out at his or her bully, there may also be underlying issues you are unaware of. The best policy is to explore the situation for what it is and then make a determination.
- One-on-one. Speak with the children individually in a neutral setting. Odds are one or both is not going to be comfortable talking about the situation while they’re together.
- Don’t push a truce. At the moment the incident happens, don’t make the parties involved offer an apology or extend a hand to the other. Such a gesture may be misconstrued by the bully who can take it as empowering. Instead, get to the bottom of the situation first, then determine how to proceed.
- Find support. Never try to be a counselor or offer advice beyond what you are comfortable. If needed, recruit help from guidance counselors, psychologists or others who are better equipped and trained to deal with peer on peer intimidation and bullying.
- Educate yourself. If you deal with children on a regular basis, in the school setting or otherwise, take training programs that offer the proper tools for dealing with child bullying situations and how to defuse them without making a bad situation worse.