Bullying is aggressive, unwanted behavior from one school-aged child to another. Bullies use their power, such as popularity or physical strength, to repeatedly hurt others in one way or another.
Bullying is a concern for parents and schools. It can happen at school. It can also happen during extracurricular activities or at public places. Online or cyberbullying occurs through email, texting, and social media. Some social media sites have a reputation for posting anonymous gossip and bully comments. Many schools educate students about bullying and have specific consequences for the behavior. Unfortunately, every school and school district is different. As such, some schools face criticism for not doing enough to address bullying. Therefore, it’s important that parents regularly talk with their children about bullying.
Path to improved well being
As your child grows and enters school, it’s difficult to know what’s going on all the time. You can’t be everywhere with your child. However, being active in his or her life helps. Understanding bullying and how to deal with it also helps. Bullying isn’t always as it is portrayed in movies and on TV. Bullying usually occurs in one of three ways: verbal, social, or physical. Bullies use their power (their strength or their popularity) to hurt others, emotionally or physically.
If your child is verbally bullied, he or she may be the victim of teasing, name-calling, threats, and embarrassing sexual comments. This might happen face to face, in writing, or online. Social bullying affects relationships and group participation. For example, purposely leaving someone out of the group or party, spreading rumors, ordering others not to be friends with someone, and embarrassing someone in public are all forms of social bullying (online too). Physical bullying involves purposely harming someone (punching, kicking, hitting) or destroying their property. Physical bullying also includes tripping, making rude hand gestures, and spitting. There is no logical reason to explain why one person (or group) bullies another. It is never acceptable behavior.
As a parent, you can help your child respond to bullying. Support your child if he or she is being bullied or witnesses someone else being bullied. Listen to and take your child seriously. Get the facts of the situation. Ask what form of bullying is happening, where it is happening, and how often it is happening. If your child is being bullied, let them know they didn’t cause the bullying. It may be difficult for your child to talk about being bullied. Encourage them to talk about it with you. Go with your child to a school counselor or administrator to report the bullying. Talk to your family doctor about a referral to a mental health provider if your child needs more support.
Teach your child how to respond if they are being bullied. Role-playing (acting out what you would say to a bully) can help. Prepare verbal responses, like telling the bully to stop or joking his or her way out of the situation. (Some kids are more comfortable laughing it off instead of confronting the bully.) Tell your child not to get into a fight. Walking away to a safe place and telling an adult is a good option.
Treat cyberbullying the same way. Tell your child:
- Not to respond to online and social media bullying.
- To keep a record and evidence of every threat or incident of bullying. Take a screen shot of whatever appears on the computer or phone.
- To block the bully on their phone and social media.
- To report the behavior to school officials. You can follow up with local police and your internet service provider if necessary.
If your child witnesses bullying, tell your child to tell an adult immediately. Research shows that getting an adult involved quickly can eventually stop the bullying. Encourage your child to be more than a bystander if he or she witnesses bullying. Encourage your child to report the behavior to a trusted adult, to help the victim get away from the bully, not to be part of the crowd standing and watching, and to be a good example. If your child knows someone who is being cyberbullied, tell them not to forward gossip, mean comments, or inappropriate photos of others through email, text, or social media. Tell them to tell a trusted adult about what they received.
Never tell your child to ignore bullying or blame them. While many parents believe it’s helpful to contact the parents of the bully, it’s best not to. It generally makes the problem worse.
Finally, get to know your child’s friends and classmates. Make your presence known at your child’s school and non-school functions. You may hear about bullying from other parents. If your school doesn’t involve parents in its bully prevention efforts, consider asking your school to start a bully safety committee that promotes a partnership between home and school.
Things to consider
Bullying occurs everywhere — big cities, the suburbs, and rural settings. You may not be aware that your child is being bullied, especially if they are afraid to tell you. However, there are warning signs, including:
- Unexplained injuries or marks to your child’s body.
- Disappearing property, such as jewelry, electronics, or clothing.
- Regular stomach aches, headaches, or frequent complaints of being sick.
- Changes in appetite (no interest in eating or eating too much).
- Sleep issues.
- Poor grades.
- Loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed.
- Sudden isolation or loss of friends.
- Self-destructive behavior, such as cutting or drinking.
- Statements of poor self-worth.
When we think of bullying, we often assume our child is the victim of the behavior. However, your child may be the bully. If your school or other parents contact you to report your child’s bullying, take it seriously. Don’t minimize it as “just teasing” or not getting along. If your child is the bully, let them know that the behavior is not acceptable. Follow up with consequences for the behavior. Let your child’s school know that you have addressed the problem at home and what you are doing about it. Talk to your child’s doctor if you need referrals for counseling. Bullying has serious, long-term effects for both the child who is bullied and the child who is doing the bullying, including poor mental health, substance abuse, and suicide.
Don’t wait to report bullying if your child or another is in immediate danger. Contact police if the bullying involves the use of a weapon, threats of physical harm, hate-related violence, sexual abuse, or illegal activity, such as robbery or extortion (forcing someone to pay money, hand over their possessions, or provide a service under threat of harm).
Questions to ask your doctor
- If I suspect my child is being bullied, how can I get him or her to talk to me or report it?
- Are there common physical signs of bullying?
- Does being bullied increase a person’s risk of suicide?
- Who is at risk for being bullied?
- Are there early warning signs that my child will become a bully?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.