Back in the day, getting tripped in the hallway, beat up on the playground or teased repeatedly was seen as a right of passage for children in school. When kids came home and told their parents about the incidents, they would either tell them to “fight back” or “butch up.” Times are changing and society is starting to realize just how damaging bullying can be to a child’s wellbeing. Kids who are repeatedly harassed are more likely to have:
- low self-esteem
- poor academic performance
- headaches and stomach aches
- poor concentration
- poor assertiveness skills
- social exhaustion and weak social skills
- lack of empathy
- poor health
Extreme cases of bullying have even led some kids to commit suicide, drop out of school or go on violent shooting rampages. Kids who go to such lengths often have other emotional issues that were only compounded by this behavior.
The damage this causes can follow children throughout their adult lives and interfere with their ability to function effectively in society. Victims may not be able to build healthy relationships or hold down a job long enough to support themselves.
Types of Bullying
There are four types children can experience – physical, verbal, covert and cyber.
- Physical bullying involves unwanted physical contact such as pushing, shoving, spitting, punching and hitting. Getting stuffed in the lunchroom garbage can might be funny on television, but in real life, it’s a form of physical abuse.
- Verbal bullying includes repeated teasing, taunting, homophobic or racial remarks and other words. For example, if a child is overweight, the perpetrator might call him, fatso, lard butt or Shamu.
- Covert bullying can include spreading rumours about someone, socially excluding someone, purposely damaging someone’s reputation or using negative facial expressions or physical gestures to embarrass a person. This Type is sometimes hard to recognize because it can be carried out behind the victim’s back.
- Cyber bullying is the newest form of of them all. It is carried out using social media, mobile devices and other types of social media. For instance, a teen might post a perverted message about someone on a social media site in an effort to humiliate them.
Why Do Kids Bully?
There are several reasons why kids push others around. One reason might be that they’re mimicking behaviors they see at home. Maybe they regularly witness their parents doing this to other family members, so they feel that it’s okay to treat others the same way. Moms and dads of victims are often shocked to learn that the parents of bullies are often bullies themselves.
Another reason kids bully is because they want to get or keep a position of power within their social group. Preteens and teens who want to feel powerful often use this behavior as a way to show their peers who‘s in control.
Also, kids who bully may have been the victims of this practice themselves, so they start doing it to others. These kids often have a “pay it forward” attitude. Since they were bullied, they’re going to return the favor by doing the same thing to others.
In addition, children who lack empathy or have no respect for other peoples’ differences often bully. They might harass redheads, tall people or people with different religious or cultural backgrounds.
How Bullies Choose Their Prey
Bullies don’t pick their targets at random; they select them very carefully. They typically zone in on children who are perceived as weak or are different in some way. Kids who are sensitive, insecure, quiet or shy are prime targets. Also, children who are underweight, overweight, gay, lesbian, or of a different race or socioeconomic class are easy pickings for bullies.
Recognize the Signs
Children sometimes feel embarrassed about being bullied, so they don’t always tell their parent. This is why it’s important to recognize the signs. Kids who are being bullied may:
- become withdrawn
- have changes in eating habits
- have unexplained bruises, cuts and scratches
- come home with missing belongings or torn clothes
- come home hungry
- become aggressive, impulsive or unreasonable
- be scared to go to school, walk home, or ride the school bus
- have poor grades
- complain of stomach problems or headaches
- be alone or excluded from groups events
What Can Parents Do
Don’t expect other kids to step up and defend a child who is being bullied. While peers may empathize with the victim, they will often sit on the sidelines because they are afraid to get involved. It is up to the parents to intervene and help their child protect themselves.
First, keep the lines of communication open. Encourage children to open up about what’s going on. Listen without getting upset or judging. Note where the bullying occurred, who was involved and what witnesses were present.
Control angry emotions. Don’t confront the perpetrator. This could make the situation worse for the victim. Contact the school principal to discuss the details of the child’s bullying. Find out what the school policy is on bullying and have them provide a written outline of their plans to keep the child safe. Follow up to make certain the situation is being handled appropriately. If the results are not satisfactory, contact the school board see what measures they are willing to take to remedy the problem.