Victory over verbal abuse

Jan 4, 2012 at 1:18 p.m. ET

Did you know that nine out of 10 teens witness bullying on social networks and 50 percent have been the target of such attacks? The anonymity and speed of the Internet makes it possible for bullies to strike without parents even being aware that their child is being harrassed. We talked with Patricia Evans, author of Victory Over Verbal Abuse: A Healing Guide to Renewing Your Spirit and Reclaiming Your Life (December 2011, Adams Media) about the damage verbal abuse can inflict, ways that parents can help children who are victims of the abuse and the best steps to take to put a stop to bullying.

Teen girl that has been bullied

Online bullying: not just teenage "drama"

Though it is often dismissed as "no big deal," online bullying is a form of verbal abuse. Our electronic lives give us the ability to easily interact with others, but technology also makes it all too easy to harass and intimidate, especially when it comes to adolescents and teens. According to the November 2011 Pew Teens, Kindness and Cruelty on Social Network Sites study, 95 percent of teens are online, with 77 percent on social networking sites. Online bullying -- or any form of bullying -- is harmful to those targeted and Patricia Evans stresses that parents need to get involved.

"Bullying is a form of verbal abuse where the victim feels ostracized and ganged up upon by the bully or bullies. It is imperative for parents to get involved and not let it resolve itself," says Evans, who is a nationally acclaimed consultant and founder of Evans Interpersonal Communications Institute (EICI). "Parents need to be vigilant for warning signs of verbal abuse in their teens. In spite of the facade teenagers try to affect, verbal abuse impacts them in an immediate wounding way."

Q&A with Patricia Evans

Evans knows that bullies use harassment and intimidation as a way to tear others down in order to build themselves up; bullies have low self-esteem and need to destroy the self-esteem of others. However, children and teens who are targeted by bullies have a hard time seeing the bully as anything but threatening. Evans wrote Victory Over Verbal Abuse, the first guide to identify verbal abuse and to present step-by-step ways victims can find relief, as a way to show parents that bullying should never be tolerated and how to stop it.

Verbal abuse is rampant among children

SheKnows: What are the statistics regarding bullying -- cyberbullying or otherwise -- in kids?

Patricia Evans: Bullying is most prevalent in fourth through eighth grade, where approximately 90 percent of children have some experience of bullying or being bullied. Statistics show that 50 percent of teens report abuse via the Internet, and 50 percent of adolescents and teens have verbally abused someone via the Internet.

SheKnows: What exactly is verbal abuse? Can you define it for us?

Patricia Evans: Verbal abuse includes a lie told to someone or about someone, or a threat designed to control someone. Verbal abuse defines people as less than they are in ways to denigrate, disparage and/or control them. A common problem for teens is the verbal abuse that they hear, that they see on their phones or that they spot on social media such as Facebook; basically, negative comments told to them and/or about them. This also includes name-calling.

Examples: "She slept with the whole team." "He's a wimp." "We know what you are and we can't stand you." These are lies told to and about the victim. Verbal abuse of children outside of school environments and in homes is also extremely common. For example, when parents or another family member say things like "You're being a baby"; "you'll never amount to anything"; or "quit crying or I'll give you something to cry about." An abusive order followed by a threat is common.

Dangers of verbal abuse

SheKnows: What are the damaging side effects of our children being verbally abused?

Patricia Evans: Victims of verbal abuse exhibit a variety of symptoms of the damage done by verbal abuse.

Verbally abused children may:

  • lose self-esteem.
  • feel lonely, helpless, rejected, or depressed.
  • be unable to focus or sit still for long.
  • experience uncontrolled anger and rage.
  • have trouble sleeping.
  • isolate themselves, quit school or fail classes.
  • may turn their rage outward and assault peers or turn inward and commit suicide.

SheKnows: What warning signs do parents need to be aware of?

Patricia Evans: Parents need to worry when their child comes home without items that they supposedly "lost," has injuries that she can't explain, exhibits changes in eating habits, makes excuses not to go to school, puts himself down (saying things like "I'm just stupid") and generally seems nervous.

Do not tolerate verbal abuse

SheKnows: What can parents do to counter verbal abuse?

Patricia Evans: Talk about bullying with the whole family. Explain that bullies are lying about their targets. Explain that bullies are jealous and feeling insignificant so they want to bond with others against someone else (the victims). Find a group in which your child feels fully accepted. Talk to teachers and administrators and bullies at school. Make sure there is no yelling, ordering, threatening or similar behavior at home. Give your child lots of praise. Talk to the parents of the bully if you can. Develop a no-tolerance movement against verbal abuse and bullying at school. Ask for a special meeting of the PTA with administrators to find out more about what your school can do to stop abuse.

Verbal abuse resources

SheKnows: What are some resources parents can turn to?

Patricia Evans: Learn all you can about bullying, cyberbullying, and verbal abuse. Fittingly, your first resource is the Internet.

More on bullying

Penn State sex scandal takes another turn: Bullying
Stop online bullies from harassing your child
Do you ever worry that your child is the class bully?