In recent years, there has been an increase in media and community awareness surrounding the topic of bullying, which has resulted in many schools adopting a zero-tolerance policy with respect to bullying behaviors. However, even with the increased awareness and school interventions in place, there is a high likelihood that your child will encounter some sort of social harassment, whether personally or as a witness. Additionally, bullying has ceased to be confined to the schoolyard or classroom due to the popularity of social networking sites and text messaging, meaning children and adolescents have the potential to experience bullying 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. So how do parents and other concerned adults spot the warning signs of bullying and help combat the effects of known bullying?
First, it is important to understand that anyone can be the target of intimidation and that teasing often exists even within circles of friends. Though some teasing behaviors are a sign of affection between friends (i.e. silly nicknames), it is important to help your child understand that they have the right to request that their friends stop any behavior or stop saying any statements that makes them feel uncomfortable. It is when an individual’s requests for respect are disregarded by their peers, or even blatantly overlooked, that bullying can become a source of distress. The effects of continued bullying on an individual can include the manifestation of anxiety symptoms, physical complaints (i.e. stomach aches, headaches), low self-esteem, and/or depressive episodes. Additionally, long-term bullying can lead to increased thoughts related to suicide and possibly even leave emotional scars that continue to trouble an individual into adulthood.
If you encounter a situation where it is suspected that your child is being harassed, it is important to take the situation seriously and consider the following tips:
- Approach the situation in a supportive manner with an emphasis on allowing your child to express their own thoughts and feelings about the situation before interjecting your own thoughts or feelings. Though it may be difficult to stay calm knowing that your child is suffering from the hands of others, it is still important to remain in control of your own emotional reaction so you can stay focused on your child’s needs in the moment.
- When your child is calm, you might try to find out all of the facts about the situation (i.e. who was involved, where were they when the event occurred, how long has the harassment been occurring). It is during this time that you may be able to help your child determine if there is anything that can be done to help prevent the situation from occurring.
- Help your child learn how to stand up for herself in a firm, yet nonaggressive manner. It is important to help your child understand that though they may want to fight back verbally or physically, such behaviors will only serve to escalate the situation rather than truly resolve the situation; therefore, it is recommended that children remain calm and refuse to respond to bullying.
- A group is less likely to encounter bullying rather than an individual; therefore, making sure your child has at least a couple friends will lessen the chance for bullying as well as provide your child with a supportive group of peers. If you feel your child is not connecting well with other children, you may want to consider a social skills group so they can learn how to interact appropriately and effectively with their peers.
- Finally, make sure you let other adults know about the situation, including school administrators and teachers, parents of your child’s friends, or coaches; however, if your child was physically assaulted by another child contacting the perpetrator or the perpetrator’s parents directly is not advised. Keeping in close contact with other adults who can help monitor situations and intervene if necessary can help keep you informed if the bullying persists or gets worse.
If you find yourself worried about the effects of bullying on your child or notice your child’s demeanor changing, you may want to consider seeking professional services. Early intervention can help prevent some of the emotional distress and self-esteem difficulties that are commonly associated with bullying.
Mary Kathleen Hill, Ph.D.