Over the last few years, media attention on bullying has dramatically increased, highlighting some of the most severe cases, including those leading to the suicide of youth who were targets of physical, relational, and online bullying (cyberbullying). Understandably, parents are concerned about the impact of bullying on their children’s well-being. As in most matters, knowledge is power, giving you the perspective and tools you need to help your child be healthy and safe. Here are answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about bullying:
1. What is (and isn’t) bullying? Bullying is conscious, willful, repeated, and deliberately hurtful acts intended to inflict pain, discomfort, and induce fear. It always includes an imbalance of power, intent to harm, and threat of further aggression. Bullying can be physical, but it is more often verbal and relational, which include taunting,harassment, rumor -spreading, social exclusion, and sabotaging relationships. As children move into middle school, bullying can expand into cyberspace.
2. Is bullying worse now than in the past? The heightened attention and concern about bullying don’t necessarily mean it is happening more today than in the past. A recent wide-scale research project on bullying and cyberbullying found that approximately 18% of kids reported being verbally bullied and just under 5% reported being cyberbullied. However, cyberbullying can be more intense and cruel than face-to-face bullying: It is easier to be mean, really mean, when you can hide behind a screen, and the bullying can go viral quickly. This means cyberbullying can pack more of an emotional punch for targets.
3. How can I prevent my child from being the target of bullying? Teach skills, nurture strengths, and stay involved. Friendship and social skills are essential for children and adolescents, because friendship is one of the most effective buffers to bullying. Assertiveness skills can ward off bullying and stop it from continuing. Nurture your child’s strengths and interests. Children who feel mastery—whether over a musical instrument, dance, academics, sports, or some other interest—feel more confident, and confidence can prevent them from being targeted and help them to recover more easily if they are the target of bullying. Check in with your child every day, even if your “How was your day?” is met with a grunt, scowl, or eye roll.
4. What if my child is being bullied? Before jumping in to fix the problem, just listen, validate, and empathize….calmly. Then develop a plan of action together. Empower your child by involving her or him in the planning and problem-solving process. The action plan may be more effective if you work with your child’s school. The bullying is likely happening at school or is affecting how your child feels at school, and school administrators are in a position to monitor the plan, enforce the consequences, and facilitate communication among all parties.