The recent news of Phoebe Prince’s death rocked parents, students, and educators around the world. Her unnecessary death has sparked a new urgency for many to revisit the age-old problem of school bullying. Parents devote themselves to keeping their children safe when they are young, but once their kids head off to school, there is a chance of becoming vulnerable to others. By learning about bullying and finding ways to educate and protect their children, parents can do their part to keep their children safe and help stop bullying. The following list of resources and information is a great place to start if you are a parent wanting to learn what you can do to help.
Learn the basics about bullying with this information.
- What is bullying?. Bullying is not just one occurrence, but a repeated event that is intentional and includes an unequal distribution of power between two children. For example, two boys of same age and size who get in a fist fight is not bullying, but a child who physically or emotionally hurts another child in a situation where one has power and the other does not is a bullying situation.
- Who may be at risk for being bullied?. Some children may unintentionally exhibit certain behaviors that make them more likely to become the target of bullies. Children who do not make good eye contact, who don’t understand teasing and may react strongly to it, or children who may misinterpret some actions as aggressive and act fearfully may be at risk of being a target. When these children are taught appropriate social skills, they greatly reduce their chances of being bullied. A small group of children known as "provocative victims" may unintentionally arouse negative reactions from others by their actions. Many of these children may have an underlying issue that lends itself to promoting this unfortunate situation such as ADHD or a learning disability.
- Gender differences. Boys and girls bully differently. Boys tend to use physical aggression, and bullying is also more socially acceptable among boys. Boys are more likely to bully and be bullied than girls. Girls tend to bully other girls through indirect routes, such as gossiping about the targeted child. Girls are also more likely to be the target of sexual bullying, which may include rumors about her sexual activities.
- Prevalence. Estimates on bullying vary widely from country to country. It is estimated that one in seven children in the US has either been a victim of bullying or has instigated bullying.
- Power. Bullying is about power. Children who bully do so as a way to exert power and control. These children share a lack of empathy for others and may have positive attitudes about violence.
- Risks for bullies. Children may become bullies for a number of reasons. Some risks include parents who are overly permissive, lack warmth, or do not supervise their children; older siblings who victimize; parents who act as bullies; friends who bully; and an acceptance of violence among peers.
Types of Bullying
Generally, there are considered to be four types of bullying: physical, verbal, social, and cyber. Below are descriptions of each type.
- Physical bullying. Physical bullying may include hitting, kicking, pushing, or spitting on another child. It can also include damage to property or theft of property. When most people think of bullying, this type of bullying is what they imagine.
- Verbal bullying. Verbal bullying, which may be used along with other forms of bullying, include name calling, teasing, threats, and misuse of authority. Any type of racial, sexual, or homophobic threats are also considered verbal bullying.
- Social bullying. Social bullying relies on groups and relationships within those groups. Forms of social bullying include spreading rumors, exclusion from a group, and positioning someone to take the blame for something they did not do.
- Cyber bullying. The newest form of bullying is done via the Internet and is known as cyber or electronic bullying. This type of bullying can occur through any number of electronic forms such as texting, email, online games, instant messages, videos or photographs, and chat rooms. Cyber bullying can include sending threatening or vulgar messages or images, posting private information about someone, posing as someone in an attempt to make them look bad, and spreading rumors about someone.
Bruises, torn clothing, and missing or destroyed property are all overt signs of bullying. Other signs are not so obvious. While any one of these signs may not be enough to suggest bullying, if you see a combination of these signs, you should take steps to protect your child.
- Academic performance. Take note if your child’s academic performance has changed remarkably. This change often indicates something is troubling your child.
- Feeling isolated. Pay attention to remarks from your child indicating she doesn’t feel accepted or is feeling isolated from friends.
- Depression. Depression can have many causes in children and warrants your attention any time it occurs.
- Changes in patterns. If you notice changes in your child’s eating or sleeping patterns, this may be a sign something is upsetting them.
- Avoiding situations. Some children who are being bullied will begin to avoid situations where they know they will encounter the bully, such as riding the bus or walking to school. They may also take longer routes to get places for no apparent reason.
- Stops participating in activities. If your child stops participating in after-school clubs or other activities he used to enjoy, you might want to dig a little deeper to discover why.
- No friends. Not having any friends to play with or to visit after school may be a sign that your child is having difficulties.
- Requests money. While just about every child will request money from their parents, take notice if your child is asking for an unusual amount of money, doesn’t explain why she needs it, or begins stealing money from you. Your child may be paying off a bully in an effort of self-protection.
Ways for Parents to Stop or Prevent Bullying
Take note of these actions you can take to help prevent your child from becoming a victim of bullying or how to help your child if bullying is already occurring.
- Talk to your children. Discuss bullying and brainstorm ways they could deal with specific situations.
- Be involved. Play an active role in your children’s lives. Talk to them every day, know their friends, and offer support by listening to them.
- Be supportive, but teach independence. It is important for parents to support their children, but try not to rescue your child from difficult situations. Instead, teach her how to manage problems on her own. Not only will this provide her with an important skill-set if faced with a bully, but she will also develop confidence.
- Help develop friendships. Look for ways to facilitate developing friendships. Having a strong set of friends can be strong medicine against bullies.
- Don’t make them feel at fault. If your child is being bullied, do not indicate in any way that it is their fault. Bullying is a direct result of the bully’s behavior and is never the victim’s fault.
- Talk to teachers. If bullying occurs, alert teachers to what is happening and work together with teachers and the principal to create a plan to address the problem.
- Keep records. Write down any and every occurrence of bullying with complete details that include the day, time, place, people involved, and what happened.
- Teach your child how to react to a bully. Parents can help their children learn ways to react to bullies that will likely diffuse the situation. Don’t encourage your child to be aggressive or fight back. Instead, encourage your child not to appear sad or fearful. Tears, fright, and passive acceptance of the bully’s demands are exactly what the bully is trying to achieve. Teach your child to react in some way that the bully won’t expect, as with humor or standing up for himself.
The online resources offer important information for parents, children, educators, and community organizations to help stop school bullying.
- Bullying Information Center. This site from Education.com provides a wealth of information about bullying and how you can stop it.
- Stop Bullying Now!. Find research-based information on ways to stop school bullying on this site.
- Stop Bullying Now!. Sharing the same name as the prior site, this one offers a page just for parents and a page just for kids. The parent page includes news, state laws, tips, books, and more to educate parents about bullying.
- About Bullying. From the US Department of Health and Human Services, this site provides links to resources for parents, educators, children, community organizations, and mental health professionals.
- Helping Kids Deal with Bullies. KidsHealth offers to the public this site that is full of information about bullying and how you can help your child.
- Explore the Nature and Prevention of Bullying. The US Department of Education created this event to help educators implement effective school bullying prevention programs. Parents will find tons of facts and information for themselves and can share the link with educators at their child’s school.
- No Bully. No Bully works to help schools prepare and implement effective anti-bullying policies. Their site has plenty of resources helpful for parents and educators alike.
- Bullies to Buddies. This method empowers children to become resistant to bullies by teaching them a way to respond rather than react to bullies.
- Tackling school bullying. This resource from the UK offers lots of great information and links to additional resources. While most of it is specific to the UK, most of it is still applicable to families in the US.