Many studies have been done on bullying, but you may be hard-pressed to find studies that consider shyness in relation to bullying. Does this character trait make you (or your child or teen, if you’re a parent) an easier target? If so, what can you do to protect yourself from bullying? These are the questions this article will explore. It will discuss the character trait of shyness, how it relates to bullying, and how this information will affect what you tell your children about protecting themselves from bullies. It will also explore how bullying can worsen shyness. At the end of the article will be a list of links to web pages you as a parent can use to learn about shyness and how it affects other areas of your child’s life.
Shyness as a character trait:
Shyness is a psychological characteristic. It is distinct from introversion, which is a personality type. A shy person is one who experiences anxiety from social contact, whereas an introvert is a person who requires time alone to recharge. However, shyness and introversion often come hand in hand, and when this is the case it is necessary to consider each trait separately.
How shyness can make your child an easy target:
When selecting a victim, bullies look for those who will be easiest to pick on with impunity. These often include children with few social connections or those who are physically weak. Some characteristics of ideal victims include:
- Children who are easily intimidated
- Children who don’t “fit in” and thus aren’t likely to have popular opinion in their favor
- Children who are quiet by nature and unlikely to speak up for themselves
- Children who have self-esteem issues (and can be persuaded that they “deserve” to be bullied)
- Children who have fewer friends to defend them
- Children who are overlooked by adults (it’s less likely someone will notice if they’re hurt)
- Children who have a strict moral code and believe it’s “wrong” to “tattle”
According to the American Psychological Association, the most reliable “predictors” of whether a child will be victimized by bullies are social ability and status and school climate. Social ability affects a child’s self-esteem and relates to the ability to fit in, and students’ status in the school affects how many friends they have as well. Now compare these predictors to a few characteristics of shy children, and you’ll see a lot of overlap. Related characteristics of shy children include:
- Shy children are often perceived as “quiet”
- Shy children may feel apprehensive anytime they talk to someone, let alone when that person is trying to threaten them
- Shy children often have few social connections and are perceived as “loners”
- Shy children tend to avoid conflict (and therefore don’t want to fight back)
- Shy children sometimes think of themselves as “undeserving” because they’re less socially adept
- Shy children tend to have just a few close friends, who sometimes aren’t around (leaving them an easy target)
Often shyness comes with low self-esteem. Once a child learns to accept and live with shyness, he or she can operate with a self-confidence that may lessen the chances of becoming a target. Here are some ways to help your child increase his or her self-confidence and self-esteem.
- Be understanding. Make sure your child realizes that shyness is a character trait, not a character defect.
- Help your child work on verbal communication skills, which often suffer because shy children don’t spend as much time talking. This is especially important if your child has developed so much anxiety about speaking that it causes a stutter. A stutter or other uncommon speech pattern can then increase social anxiety, creating a self-worsening cycle.
- Help your child increase self-confidence; for example, introduce your child to successful adults who have accepted their shyness and learned to live with it, or help your child find something he or she is really good at and then, if possible, pay for private lessons.
- Enroll your child in self-defense classes.
- Teach your child to find self-worth in areas other than social involvement.
Things that will NOT help your child function effectively:
- Telling your child not to be so quiet all the time. This will add performance anxiety to social anxiety because your child will realize you expect more talking, feel too awkward to do it, and consequently become frustrated and feel like he or she is “bad at talking.”
- Making remarks like “It’s the quiet ones that scare me most.” Implying that your child’s thoughts must be somehow wrong or lawless just because he or she isn’t sharing all of them is a very hurtful thing to do.
- Telling your child to “Just get over it and say something.” In an awkward social situation, you may be assuming that your child is indecisive and can’t decide which of several things to say; but it’s entirely possible that a shy child’s brain will actually freeze up, leaving no words available at all.
- Telling your child that there must be something “wrong” with him or her because of the tendency to stay home and do homework instead of going to parties.
- Ignoring your child when they do try to say something. It probably took a lot of effort!
Any of these wrong responses can make your child feel less confident and less self-assured, increasing stress and decreasing self-esteem.
How bullying can worsen shyness:
According to overcomebullying.org, bullying can increase anxiety, and permanent effects it has on victims can include:
- Damaged self-confidence
- Relationship problems
- Absenteeism (or dropping out)
One way bullying can worsen shyness is by increasing social anxiety to the point that it causes mental agony every day when the student has to go to school. If your child is shy, he or she may already be quite apprehensive every morning at the thought of going to school, where there are hundreds of other people, and perhaps having to carry on many conversations throughout the day. Add a bullying scenario to the equation, and your child may start deciding to stay home “sick” as often as you’ll buy the excuse.
In addition to worsening your child’s shyness now, bullying can cause many problems later in life. Dukemedicine.org records study findings that show these problems can include, among others:
- Psychiatric problems
- Anxiety and anxiety disorders
- Panic disorders
News flash! Shyness can influence your child in favor of cyberbullying!
Many children bully because they have insecurities about themselves. Shy children also tend to be insecure, due to their self-esteem issues. Shy children aren’t likely to physically bully others, perhaps because they have social anxieties or perhaps because they’re gentle by nature.
However, physical bullying isn’t the only recognized form of bullying that’s causing problems in today’s world. Technology has enabled a new form of bullying called cyberbullying, which appeals to children with social anxieties because they feel safe hiding behind an online persona. Some children who engage in cyberbullying can maintain anonymity throughout the process. It can be difficult for students who’ve been bullied their whole lives to refrain from taking advantage of this opportunity, which can give them an unaccustomed feeling of power. This type of bullying involves using technology to harm others in such ways as these:
- Gossiping about others
- Impersonating others online, especially with ill intent
- Forming exclusionary online cliques
- Making unkind or belittling comments about or to others online
The term used for a child who becomes a bully after being victimized by other children is “bully-victim.” According to the American Psychological Association, these children get the worst of both worlds. They often have difficulty with social situations, don’t perform well academically, and have low self-esteem. These are all problems that should be dealt with individually.
Long-term negative effects on bully-victims, says dukemedicine.org, include a higher incidence of several disorders. In fact, they had the highest incidence of these disorders of any group in the study.
- Anxiety and depressive disorders
- Suicidal thoughts
- Panic disorder
Help your child maintain appropriate friendships online:
Encourage your child to interact with others online without resorting to cyberbullying by using strategies such as these.
- Keep your child accountable for internet use
- Teach your student to respect others in every area of life
- Set boundaries on your child’s internet use