Bullying is perhaps one of the most harmful experiences a child can endure, and yet it is still neglected by many parents, schools and children. According to a study, about 49% of children in grades 4–12 reported being bullied by other students at school at least once during the past month in the West, where bullying is being treated as a public health concern. Even if we don’t see it happen or hear about it, bullying can have detrimental long-term consequences on our children’s health and well-being.
What is bullying?
Bullying is a repeated aggressive behavior towards a child or a teenager, with the intent to harm and overpower him or her. It can take any form of repeated physical or verbal abuse, from name calling, threatening, pushing, and hitting, to spreading rumors, excluding from a group, and so on.
Another increasingly common form of harassment is cyberbullying, which is bullying through the use of technology and electronic communication. From sending ongoing threatening or intimidating emails and texts, to posting embarrassing or even fake pictures and videos on social media, cyberbullying can be even more harmful since it is widespread and can happen anytime, anywhere, by one of a child’s peers just as much as an anonymous person or a fake account. As a result, constantly surrounded by these bullies, the targeted child feels exposed and helpless.
A concern to all mothers
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “bullying has serious and lasting negative effects on the mental health and overall well-being of youth involved in bullying”. As mothers, we need to start feeling concerned about our children getting bullied or cyberbullied as soon as they start going to school, or start using an electronic device, particularly a phone or computer. “Being bullied can have traumatic consequences for a child, leading to poor school performance, low self-esteem, anxiety, and even depression,” says Parents advisor David Fassler, M.D., clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Vermont, in Burlington.
In the case of cyberbullying, where the child is exposed to harassment 24/7, he or she can develop bad habits such as lack of sleep, poor diet and loss of focus among others, leading to significant health problems.
More research has shown a link between bullying and other serious public health problems like suicide, which makes it all the more dangerous to our child. In its study, the CDC states that “youth who report frequently bullying others and youth who report being frequently bullied are at increased risk for suicide-related behavior.”
Looking for signs of bullying
Children can be involved in bullying in different ways: they can be bullies, be victims of bullying, or even witness other children getting bullied. Usually, those who witness bullying might not inform a parent or surrounding adult. Even our child, out of fear, might not tell us if he or she is getting bullied. So it is all the more important for us to follow up on his or her behavior, and be on the lookout for the earliest signs of attitude change towards school or friends.
Among the most common signs of bullying are a drop in the kid’s grades and unwillingness to go to school or take the school bus. He or she can also start skipping school, start staying home instead of hanging out with friends, start getting aggressive towards other family members or school peers, lose interest in a previously favorite activity or even stop the use of social networks.
Many of these signs can be mistaken for laziness, peer pressure and other reasons, so as proactive parents we need to investigate these attitude or behavior changes, and never rule out bullying.
How can parents help?
As parents, we have a dual role regarding bullying: prevention and support. Moreover, we need to keep in mind that our child can be a victim of bullying or the one bullying others, and each situation has to be dealt with accordingly.
Our lines of communication should always be open as our kids grow up. Given children’s secretive nature, it’s up to us to make sure they feel safe talking to us about anything.
If they witness or become victims of bullying, or if we sense that they feel threatened, we should encourage them to talk to us or to an adult they can trust at school – remember, teenagers usually distance themselves from their parents, they might feel more comfortable talking to a teacher or a social worker, which should be perfectly okay.
Bullies target those they perceive as weak, so helping our children build self-confidence is crucial. We need to teach them how to calmly yet assertively tell others to stop if their behavior is bothering them, but without fear or violence. In fact, a violent reaction is definitely not recommended and, as Psychology Today points out, “by encouraging your child to respond without anger or fear, you teach [him or] her how to portray confidence. The bully, in turn, detects less potential for wielding control.” Also, as bullies don’t usually target groups, we can encourage the child to stay around close ones or adults if threatened.
Tackling cyberbullying might be more challenging. We can’t stop our children from using electronic devices, but we definitely can educate them about the potential dangers of their browsing habits. One prevention method is to carefully explain what cyberbullying is and how to protect themselves. They should know the risks of posting pictures or chatting with strangers, and be able to identify fake accounts.
It is our job as mothers to combat bullying and protect our children from its claws. It is our duty as parents create an environment where our children feel safe, comfortable and loved.