Bullying has been an issue basically since the beginning of time and it can have major impacts on the health, safety, and overall wellbeing of children as they head back to school. The incorporation of cyberbullying into the mix over the past couple of decades puts our children at even greater risk of dealing with a bullying scenario at some point in their school years. It is important for parents to know how to identify bullying, how to help their children when faced with bullies, and when to seek help for their child/children.
What is bullying and cyberbullying?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines bullying as “abuse and mistreatment of someone vulnerable by someone stronger, more powerful, etc.” and cyberbullying as “the electronic posting of mean-spirited messages about a person (such as a student) often done anonymously”. While the cyberbullying definition does not seem to encompass all of the bullying scenarios through technology, combined with the bullying definition it can give you an idea of how many ways a child could possibly be bullied at school, during their extracurriculars, or online.
Because some levels of playful teasing and joking may be alright, it is a very fine line between fun teasing and mean teasing, harassment, or worse. So, how do we know? If the interaction stops being mutual fun and one or more parties feel it has become unkind, that is how you can tell the difference.
How do parents identify when their child is being bullied?
One of the tough parts of this concept is that parents are often not direct witnesses of the bullying actions because the child is at school when it happens or they are on an electronic device without being monitored. So, how can parents identify when their child might be the victim of bullying or cyberbullying? Often there are behavioral changes like increased anxiety, increased moodiness, changes in eating and sleeping behaviors, shorter “fuse” (increased aggressiveness or hostility faster than normal), and avoidance tactics.
This last factor, avoidance, may be one of the easiest to identify especially if your child is a pre-teen or teenager who is already exhibiting some of the other behavior changes as they enter puberty. If your child starts avoiding school, their bus stop, their extracurricular activities, activities with a certain friend or group of friends, social media sites they normally frequent, or other similar scenarios, it would be worth investigating why. Also, remember that anxiety in children often presents as stomach troubles, so an increase in stomach aches can be a good indicator of increased anxiety.
How can parents help when their child has been bullied?
- Listen, comfort, and be supportive
- Do not tell them they just need to “deal with it”
- Take them and their concerns seriously, validate their feelings
- Reassure them the bullying is not their fault
- Praise them for reaching out to you
- Notify the teacher/school/coach
- Continue to monitor the situation and ask your child for updates
- For cyberbullying especially, encourage your child not to respond
- Also for cyberbullying, keep records in case evidence is required
- Get help for your child by seeking a therapist or counselor
Bullying has been attributed to cases of suicide and school violence. It is important that parents understand how serious this situation can be for their child.
What advice should be offered to children being bullied?
- Avoid the bully if at all possible
- Avoid being alone, use the buddy system whenever possible
- Avoid showing anger or fear in front of the bully, that is often what they thrive on. If they know they cannot upset you they may stop the behavior all together
- Ignore the bully if at all possible
- Tell someone! Your parent, a teacher, a counselor, your coach, any adult who can help
What advice should be offered to children being cyber-bullied and what can parents do to help?
- Do not respond to the bully
- Block the bully
- Parents should monitor and often limit social media usage at least until the situation is resolved
- Parents should “friend” or “follow” their children on social media so they can be an active part of their child’s online world.