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Is your child a victim of bullying at school? Has he or she witnessed bullying among classmates? Or, are they the one exhibiting bullying behavior? If you can answer yes to any of these questions, you might be among a growing number of parents who are at a loss as to how to develop a strategy to address and mend their child’s unique bullying situation. Thankfully, there are a few resources online that can help.
The Reason I Write about Bullying in Schools
Before I get too involved I felt in my mama gut to share with you why I am writing this. The first reason is I am a parent whose child has endured being bullied. Our son is high functioning Autism and while he can many times be awkward socially at times this has caused others even adults to pick on him. The second reason is I want to honor a girl named Jenny (her name has been changed to keep her privacy). She came home every single day from school in tears, her parents wrote letters, they had meetings, they begged and begged, but one day her father came into Jenny’s room and found her nearly dead from hanging herself. This was less than two months ago as I write this. I know her grandmother well and was texted within the hour she was found to pray over her. Thankfully Jenny was found in time, only 13 years old, but bullied so much it finally drove her to try and commit suicide. Jenny is now recovering, she did sustain some injuries to trachea, but they found her before it was too late. How many stories like Jenny’s is it going to take before parents, teachers, and society wake up that this is a growing epidemic!
What is Bullying?
To start, let’s take a quick look at what bullying is, some examples of bullying, general bullying facts and statistics, and the overall effects of bullying. (If you already know the facts and are in need of a quick read regarding the solutions, please scroll down to “What Parents Specifically Need to Know About Bullying.”)
According to StopBullying.gov, the definition of bullying centers around two traits:
- An imbalance of power: Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance by use of physical strength, access to embarrassing information, and/or popularity.
- Repetition: Bullying generally happens more than once or has the real potential to be repetitive.
That might seem a little broad, so let’s take a closer look at some examples of bullying.
What are Some Examples of Bullying?
- Verbal bullying, which involves saying or writing mean-spirited things, such as:
- Inappropriate sexual comments (or simply comments about physical traits)
- Threatening to cause harm
- Social/Relational bullying, which involves the attempt (whether successful or not) to hurt someone’s reputation or relationships, such as:
- Embarrassing someone in public
- Leaving someone out on purpose
- Spreading rumors about someone
- Telling other children not to be someone’s friends
- Physical bullying, which involves the attempt (whether successful or not) to hurt a person’s body or their belongings, such as:
- Making mean or rude hand gestures
- Taking or breaking someone’s things
To get a better grasp of what our children are up against—as victims or bullies themselves—let’s take a look at bullying facts and statistics (in the United States of America).
The test of courage comes when we are in the minority. The test of tolerance comes when we are in the majority.”Unknown
Bullying Facts and Statistics
- Children who have been bullied:
- Children who have been cyberbullied:
- 9% of students in grades 6–12 experienced cyberbullying (with an astounding 55.2% of that claiming LGBTQ status).
- 15% of high school students (grades 9–12) were electronically bullied—text, email, social media—in 2016.
- Children who have seen bullying:
- 70.6% of the youth say they have seen bullying in their schools.
- 70.4% of school staff have witnessed bullying. 62% witnessed bullying two or more times in a single month and 41% witness bullying once a week or more.
- Children who have bullied others:
The more frequent types of bullying are verbal and social/relational. Physical bullying is not as prominent as Hollywood movies make it out to be, but it is nearly on the heels of verbal and social. Cyberbullying (or digital bullying) is the least common of all the types.
A 2007 study of bullying and peer victimization at school (involving observances at 75 elementary, 20 middle, and 14 high schools) concluded the following percentages of middle school students who experience these types of bullying: name calling (44.2 %); teasing (43.3 %); spreading rumors or lies (36.3%); pushing or shoving (32.4%); hitting, slapping, or kicking (29.2%); leaving out (28.5%); threatening (27.4%); stealing belongings (27.3%); sexual comments or gestures (23.7%); email or blogging (9.9%).
According to that same study, the most common places where bullying takes place are in the school, outside on school grounds, and on the school bus.
- Classroom = 29.3%
- Hallway or lockers = 29.0%
- Cafeteria = 23.4%
- Gym or P.E. class = 19.5%
- Bathrooms = 12.2%
- Playground or recess = 6.2%
But, that’s not where bullying ends. Any place children and youth gather within the community, bullying occurs with just as much regularity.
The Effects of Bullying
Research has indicated that persistent bullying has the potential to lead to (or worsen) feelings of anxiety, depression, despair, exclusion, isolation, and rejection. A prevailing situation that is often neglected in discussions is the fact that the bullied bully. Children and youth who both bully and are bullied have the greatest risk for subsequent behavioral, mental health, and academic problems. In other words, even the bullies are suffering.
In recent years, the media has highlighted how bullying can contribute to suicidal talk or behavior, but thankfully, the vast majority of youth who are bullied do not become suicidal. Victims who have attempted or been successful at suicide were also suffering from multiple other risk factors. (An important thing for parents to note is that youth who claim LGBTQ status have an increased risk for suicide even when bullying is actually not a factor at all.)
For more information on the suicidal effects of bullying, please click here.
What Parents Specifically Need to Know About Bullying in Schools
All these different types of bullying may or may not seem like common practice among children to you, especially if you have a sunny childhood to look back on, but the truth is, today’s schoolyards contain a much different social climate than many of us were ever accustomed to growing up.
These younger generations weren’t necessarily raised on the simplicity of Atari or Nintendo, nor did they chill out to Bob Ross after school. They’re not listening anxiously (and patiently) to the AM/FM radio as their finger hovers over the record button in case their favorite song comes on. No, these children have never known a world without iPods, YouTube, Facebook, smartphones, video on demand, Xbox, and many other at-your-fingertip luxuries that tend to pamper and promote self-indulgence. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing inherently evil about any of the technologies of this age. My point is, we can’t expect our children to have the same experience we did. Just as technology, times have changed. If we can’t accept that, then we’re already failing them.
Look again at those stats, what patterns do you see? Well, about 1 in 5 children experience bullying. In fact, it is middle school—ages 11–13—that sees the most cases and frequency of bullying. Why is that? Most experts agree that these stats make sense when you consider that particular age group. Puberty is setting in. Young girls are blossoming and becoming sensitive to the changes in their bodies. Young boys are awakening to urges they barely understand. A lot of the time, the changes in appearance, along with hormonal urges and mood swings, can cause insecurities, as well as a desperate need to be accepted and to belong. This leaves some children vulnerable and susceptible to emotional injury and other children more inclined to take advantage wherever there is advantage to be had. It’s really no different from the adult world, but it seems unnatural for us, as parents, to see our children engage in these types of group social behaviors.
This is about that time that children are forming cliques and any and all differences between peers are becoming more noticeable. What many people get wrong is an idea we see time and time again in movies and television. Hollywood often paints the picture of bullying as being a repetitive incident between one bully and one victim of bullying, but the truth is that it almost always involves groups of students who support each other in bullying other students. In other words, it’s generally a group act against one or more individuals at once, with many witnesses present.
Every person in attendance, whether directly involved or merely observing, is affected, which is something teachers and parents don’t always take into account. Even witnesses are negatively affected by bullying. Some of those effects can last into adulthood for those involved, regardless of their level of involvement.
- are overweight or underweight (surprisingly, both are bullied equally)
- have disabilities
- classify themselves as belonging to the LGBTQ community
- are conservative Christians
- wear glasses
- wear unique or perceived-as-strange clothing
- don’t seem to be able to afford certain fashionable or “cool” items or fun activities (i.e. going out to movies, out to eat, to the arcade, etc.)
- are perceived as weak or unable to defend themselves
- are depressed, anxious, or already have low self-esteem
- are less popular and have fewer friends
- do no get along with others (i.e. introverted)
- are seen as annoying or provoking (i.e. hyperactive)
- antagonize others for attention (i.e. bullying begets bullying)
There are also potential circumstances and behavioral conditions that make children more inclined to be bullies. There are two types of bullies:
- Those well-connected to their peers with observable social influence, who are overly-concerned about their popularity, and who enjoy being in charge of peers or social situations.
- Those who are more isolated from their peers and may be experiencing depression, anxiety, low self-esteem. This type will exhibit an observable difficulty in identifying with the emotions or feelings of others and have the propensity to be easily pressured by their peers because of their desire to “fit in.”
Children most susceptible to conducting bullying behavior are generally:
- aggressive or easily frustrated.
- experiencing issues at home and have below-average parental involvement.
- in the habit of thinking negatively about others.
- hard to manage in class settings because they have a difficulty following rules.
- inclined to view violence in a positive way.
- friends with other children who bully.
What’s most troubling is that only 20% of those who are bullied will actually notify the adults, whether teachers or parents. This means that the bullying may continue for days, weeks, months, even years by the same perpetrators. It doesn’t matter if the child is a victim or a bully, both are being shaped and molded by this behavior, both are suffering from its negative effects, BOTH NEED HELP.
First, you need to know that there is hope. According to several recent studies and surveys, bullying is on the decline. It’s because of technology—social media and easy-access to public-made videos—that we have become more aware and sensitive to the existence of bullying. Many experts agree that the statistics of bullying have always remained the same—even during our own childhood—but that the targets and subjects of bullying have changed and increased.
This would make sense, especially when you consider that the LGBTQ community, in particular, tends to be the most-targeted in schools. The rise in openly-communicated sexual- and gender-based orientations over the past two decades has, no doubt, contributed to a rise in bullying behavior against that which is perceived as “different.” Decades ago, such preferences and forms of identity would have been kept secret—not that that was an ideal situation—and those inclined to bully would be left in the dark about a potential target.
Likewise, it is easy to see how body shaming is also more prevalent these days, as we consider how bombarded our society is with images of half-naked men and women. For some of us, many of the images in tv ads, magazines, on billboards, in video games, or on tv shows and movies, would have been a rare sight—some even isolated to specialty stores that required picture ID. Now, sexual innuendo, sultry looks and poses, and bared skin is everywhere you—and your children—look. Both the male and the female body are objectified on a daily basis. It’s no wonder that children are becoming more and more aware of their bodies and the differences in others’ bodies.
What Can You Do as a Parent to Stop Bullying?
While a lot of these factors simply can’t be helped, we can always work in the home to combat bullying. By establishing firm systems of etiquette and self-care, we can train our children to conduct themselves in a manner that begets tolerant, caring behavior. Training our children to recognize bullying traits—even in themselves—and to report bullying, is a sure way to stamp it out in life’s other arenas.
Too often, children neglect to realize their own strengths. Remember, over 70% of those affected by bullying are those who merely observed it take place. What that 70% has not been equipped to realize is that bystanders have the greatest power in bullying situations. When bystanders intervene, bullying stops within 10 seconds about 60% of the time. Sure, there’s a 40% chance that the bully won’t stop, but if the other children do absolutely nothing, there’s a 100% guarantee that the bullying will continue, oftentimes causing long-term emotional and/or physical damage.
Be Your Bullied (or Bullying) Child’s Confidant
Aside from just teaching children that bullying is wrong and encouraging them to be advocates for one another, parents can help prevent bullying by maintaining open lines of communication. Sometimes, children are too uncomfortable to share their pain or their bad bullying behavior with a parent, especially if they fear the parent will overreact by being overly protective and embarrass them even more at their school or, in the case of a bullying confession, they’re afraid their parent will retaliate in a harmful and humiliating way.
The key is to train your children to feel safe in relaying sensitive information to you. If they suspect you will immediately jump to action instead of discussing follow-up options with them, they will withhold their experiences from you and suffer in silence.
First and foremost, be a listener. If your child is the bully, calmly ask them about the details of the incident and gently explain that there will have to be a consequence for their actions, as well as a need for them to right their wrong directly with their victim(s).
If you have small children who do not communicate well in general, try asking them these simple questions after school:
- What was a good thing that happened today? Were there any bad things?
- What is lunch time like at your school? Who do you sit with for lunch? What do you talk about?
- What is it like to ride the school bus?
- Are you excited to go back to school tomorrow? Why or why not?
Help Your Bullied (or Bullying) Child Recognize Their Worth
In addition to communication, parents can help their children to learn to love and respect themselves, which will lead to loving and respecting others. In earlier articles, I discussed the importance of self-love and self-care for women, especially wives and mothers. The same principles should apply to our children. They may bathe, eat, do their homework, clean their rooms, and socialize and play, but if our boys and girls don’t commit to their own self-care routines, they will fall prey to bullying, whether they’re the receivers or instigators.
How can you help them recognize their worth?
- Set aside time each day to be present for them. Don’t just take up space in the same room as them. A 5-minute conversation with direct eye contact and smiles makes all the difference to a child, and even to a teenager. As adults, we sometimes forget what it was like to be small and sensitive or young and in need of an identity. We forget how it felt to have to speak to the backs of our parents because they were always too busy to just sit down and look at us.
- Train them to eat well for their bodies. Feed your children good, healthy, well-balanced meals and teach them what the most basic of nutrients will do for their growing bodies. Is it easier to start this when they’re toddlers? Of course! But, it’s never too late—even if you have teens—to help them understand the importance of eating well. Talk to your daughter about what fruit and nuts can do for her skin, hair, and nails. Talk to your son, too, about what foods will keep him lean and muscular. Help them to see the value in a well-fed body.
- Train them to love what their bodies can do. Remember the stats? Bullying is not at all common on the playground or during physical activities at schools. This is a good indicator that exercise is an excellent avenue through which to avoid and overcome bullying. Teach your sons and daughters to engage in exercise every day. Get them a gym membership. Invest in home gym equipment. Take family walks or bike rides. Go to the beach more often. Help them develop a love for the potentials of their own bodies, a love for fresh air, sunshine, and sweat. This, along with healthy, balanced eating, equips them for health, longevity, and gives them a sense of pride and confidence in their own bodies, which will protect them from bullying and also teach them to stop undervaluing the bodies of others.
- Train them in the dying arts of manners and appearance. Children are not naturally-inclined toward proper etiquette. Be sure they’re aware of posture, table manners, and, yes, even chivalry. Help them to discover what their best look is. Don’t let your girls stumble upon makeup without a little guidance on how to use it to complement their features. Help your sons to see the value in an excellent haircut and clothes that fit well. Help your children to dress in a way that is upright, a way that not only highlights their unique physical appeal, but also inspires them and those around them to a nobler sense of decorum. When children and teenagers are equipped to act outstandingly polite and civil in all situations, they will be a force to be reckoned with among their peers. When they are shown how to look their best, they will feel their best, and no bully will be able to convince them otherwise. Plus, just as research has shown, bullies are, more often than not, children who have not been taught these things. They are children whose parents have neglected to guide them in the ways of manners and appearance.
- Feed what they love. It’s tempting to let them focus on school part of the day and then focus on general play for the remainder, but children aren’t two-dimensional. They’re not little robots being coded for weekly work and weekend fun. They need to cultivate interests and hobbies that shape and define their characters and personalities. Studies show that children and teenagers who aren’t fully comfortable with their own tastes and preferences are more vulnerable to bullying at school. Give them the freedom and the security to more deeply explore their interests. Find out what they love, invest in it, and affirm it.
Children aren’t as fragile as some would have us believe, but they certainly aren’t invincible. Just because your son or your daughter bounces back after a painful day at school doesn’t mean they’re okay. Teachers and other staff members do their best to raise awareness at schools. Many schools dedicate multiple days out of the year to teaching the children the importance of respectful behavior toward one another. But, sadly, it just isn’t enough.
As parents, we can do more about bullying in schools. No matter how busy or stressed or tired or broke we are, we have much more to give than we realize. It’s as simple as being present emotionally, being directly attentive, making eye contact, pausing an “important” task to make them the central focus. It’s as simple as taking a walk with them instead of watching a movie or inviting them to the gym with us instead of taking them out for fast food. The more importance we place on their health, their appearance, family decorum in the home, and their unique interests, the more we prepare them for the social hardships they’re already discovering as early as preschool. Train them up to value themselves in every way and you’re essentially teaching them that everyone has value.
If your child has been bullied, please share your experience below. How did you personally combat it? What advice would you give other mothers about bullying in schools?