Bullying is a serious problem among young people, and it's not restricted to schools. Ball fields, playgrounds, and other social settings provide ample opportunities for bullies to perfect their craft. If they can't get to their victims there, bullies jump on the cyber highway and use cell phones and the Internet to hound their targets.
Victims of bullying are greatly affected, feeling fear, insecurity, and low self confidence. They may feel friendless and blame themselves for the bullying. They feel helpless – as if no one can protect them – and they don't know where to turn.
Bullying expert Hilda Quiroz is a former teacher who works for the National School Safety Center. According to Quiroz, when victims of bullying become angry, they direct their anger in one of two directions – at themselves or toward others. In some cases, children turn inward and hurt themselves, even commit suicide; or they turn outward and resort to violence, such as school shootings.
Why do kids bully?
There are countless reasons why kids bully – jealousy, low self-esteem, unstable home life, a mental health disorder. Some kids bully because it's how they "fit in" with a popular crowd; others bully as a way to protect themselves from becoming the target.
What constitutes bullying?
Bullying is a broad term that encompasses a number of different behaviors, ranging from name calling to serious assaults. Bullying is sometimes done by an individual, sometimes by a group, and it tends to happen over and over again among the same kids.
- Physical bullying is when a child or group of kids uses force to hurt another by hitting, shoving, kicking, or using weapons.
- Verbal bullying consists of name calling, teasing, and constant criticism and putdowns.
- Emotional bullying includes spreading false rumors about someone, gathering friends to gang up on someone, or intentionally and consistently excluding someone from a group.
- Cyber-bullying is a growing concern. Bullies send harassing text, E-mail, or instant messages, or post nasty pictures on blogs or websites.
- Vandalism is when bullies destroy or steal personal property, or vandalize the victim's home.
What can parents do?
Adults must take children seriously when they talk about being bullied. It's important for kids to know there are adults in whom they can confide.
- Don't ignore your child's concerns, and don't ask your child to ignore the bullying. Allow your child to talk about the bullying, and document what is shared. If your child is being bullied in cyberspace, try to block the offenders and save the evidence.
- Make sure your child understands that the bullying is not his or her fault. Never let your child think that he/she did something to provoke the bullying. Assure them that they are not alone; other children have gone through the same thing.
- Teach children to stand up for themselves, but don't encourage physical retaliation. Bullies are cowards and pick on kids who can't or won't defend themselves.
- Teach your child safety strategies, such as how to seek help from an adult. Oftentimes bullying doesn't stop until an adult gets involved. Telling an adult is not tattling.
- Offer your child activities – sports, art lessons, martial arts training, music classes – to help him/her build self esteem. Try not to let them avoid formal activities in which they're bullied.
- Encourage and help your child meet new friends. A child who is always alone is an easier target.
- When necessary, seek help from a mental health professional. Some kids who are bullied become so depressed that they hurt themselves. Help your child understand that there are other ways to solve the problem.
- Provide a safe, loving environment for your child at home.
It is a big deal
Have you ever said, "Kids will be kids," or "It's no big deal"? Bullying is a big deal should be taken seriously. Recent national headlines have shown how bullying can escalate to where kids take their own life or the lives of others.
For more information, visit the Take a Stand, Lend a Hand, Stop Bullying Now national campaign website to find resources to equip you and your children with the tools to effectively tackle bullying issues.