Nobody likes a bully

624701812_bullied.jpgBullying is an issue kids have had to deal with since … well, practically forever. Many times, it goes something like this:

“You’re a loser!”

“Nobody likes you!”

“You have a stupid face!”

And then the pushing and hitting starts.

Bullying typically involves an individual who picks on someone who is weaker or more alone. The ridicule is then repeated over and over. How harmful is it? What can be done about it? Let’s take a look.

The harm

Bullying usually begins in elementary school, peaks in middle school, and wanes as kids move into high school. But bullying can occur at any age. It may involve physical harm, such as hitting, shoving, or tripping. More commonly, it can be emotional, by making fun of the way someone acts, looks, or talks. Writing mean things about someone in emails or online, or posting embarrassing images of someone, is a special form of bullying called cyberbullying. Boys and girls take part in bullying, and while not all forms leave bruises, they all inflict damage.

Students reporting frequent involvement in bullying (2+ times/month)
40.6% total
23.2% bullied 8.0% bullying others 9.4% both roles

Kids who are bullied are more likely to feel bad about themselves and be depressed. As bullying gets worse, they may fear or lose interest in going to school. Fear can lead children to do tragic things, such as carry weapons, use violence to get revenge, or harm themselves.

Who gets bullied?

Children who are bullied are often quiet and shy. They may have few friends and have difficulty standing up for themselves.

Children who are being bullied may have physical injuries. They may “lose” items that bullies take. They may sleep poorly. Their behavior may change. Watch for signs a child is bullied.

Kids who bully other kids don’t benefit from it, either. These individuals are more likely to drop out of school, have drug and alcohol problems, and break the law. In many cases, these kids are themselves being bullied and are taking out their frustrations on others. They need help, too.

The online threat

Cyberbullying takes place online. If kids receive a mean email or text, or see a mean social media post, they should not share it or forward it. Instead, they should tell an adult. Communication is crucial to help prevent cyberbullying. Let your child know that you won’t take away any electronic devices if he or she confides in you about a problem with a bully.

Parents should establish rules about technology use so that kids know how to be safe online. Rules may relate to sites kids can visit, what types of things they can say or share, and with whom they share their passwords. Be aware of what your kid is doing online, just as you check up on him or her offline in the real world.

What can be done?

In my spare time, I’m a martial arts instructor. Over the years, I’ve taught children—and a few adults—who were picked on, bullied, or shut out of social groups. I’ve also had to deal with a few who were bullies. I’ve found that, no matter which side of the bullying they’re on, consistent discipline and encouragement help reduce it as self-esteem grows.

The biggest deterrent to bullies is people who stand up for themselves. Because bullies tend to choose weak or timid people who will simply accept the abusive treatment, confidence and self-esteem go a long way toward preventing bullying. It can be scary for a child, or even an adult, to look a bully in the eye and say, “Leave me alone,” yet this is an effective action. Finding courage can be a challenge, but until the child who is bullied stands up to the child doing the bullying, it’s likely the bad behavior will continue.

It helps when the child tells an adult about the bullying, which also takes courage. A parent or teacher can take steps to stop the bullying. This may include talking to school administrators to ensure kids who bully are disciplined. Teachers can keep a closer watch on those being bullied to help ensure it stops. Parents can also help their kids get involved in new activities, such as school clubs, sports, or youth groups. Being part of a group and having friends can help a child improve his or her self-image and deter bullies.

Kids can help keep other kids from being bullied, too. Teach them to speak up when someone else is being picked on. This can make a huge difference. When bystanders intervene, bullying stops within 10 seconds more than half of the time! However, one study showed that bystanders only intervened about 19% of the time. So, if kids are reluctant to get involved directly, it’s not abnormal; they can walk away and tell an adult. They can also be kind to the kid being bullied. Kids can also get their friends to join them in being against bullying.

Combating cyberbullying may require action, as well as recordkeeping. If your child is being bullied online, refer to for steps you can take to deal with and report cyberbullying.

Is your child a bully?

78401154_bully.jpgThis is a tough question for parents to ask themselves. Nobody wants to be the parent with the problem child, and it can be hard to accept. Bullies tend to have underlying issues—some have self-esteem issues, some have problems at home, and some have had other negative life experiences that make them mean people. These kids need help to change their behavior.

As a parent, you need to take your child’s actions seriously. Let your child know that bullying will not be tolerated. Discipline should be established with negative consequences, such as losing privileges and not being allowed to see friends after school. The flip side of this is that positive reinforcement should be used when your child is kind or does something nice for someone. Praise is a valuable tool. If you need help with discipline, involve your child’s teacher, school administrators, and school counselor to help stop the bullying.

You should talk with your child about the importance of understanding people’s feelings. It’s important to know the roles kids play in bullying as well, so that children aren’t stuck with labels to overcome on top of the bad behavior. Encouraging him or her to hang out with children you know are good role models can help, too. Speaking of good role models, make sure that you are a good one yourself! Don’t react with aggression to disappointments. If your child has a problem with aggression, you may need additional help for your child from a pediatrician or mental health professional.

Not an epidemic

While bullying is a serious issue, it is not an epidemic. National rates have decreased slightly in recent years:

Percent of students who reported being bullied
2005 28%
2007 32%
2009 28%
2011 28%
2013 22%

Still, this shows that about one in four children deal with bullying at school to some degree.  Bullying prevention programs in schools may or may not help—program success depends on too many variables. There is still much to learn about bullying behavior and what works and what doesn’t. If you’re a parent like I am, the best thing you can do is stay involved in the daily lives of your children and keep communication open with them, their teachers, and school staff. It takes solid teamwork to reduce bullying, so don’t give up!

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