Bullies have been around since time immemorial, but with the heightened tensions and anxieties in our country related to the virus, politics, racism and more, children and teens are experiencing an increase in conflict and bullying incidents.
Bulling comes in four basic forms:
Verbal bullying involves the use of spoken words, with the bully threatening or calling someone by degrading names. It may also involve the use of slurs toward family or friends of their target.
Physical bullying involves hitting, kicking, pushing or any form of unwanted touch.
Relational bullying is when the bully purposely excludes his or her victim from activities, groups or events.
Cyberbullying is when someone uses Facebook, Instagram, texting or other social media to spread rumors and lies about another person.
While bullying can happen at any age, middle school is a particularly active time for bullies to do their worst. Here are some bullying facts:
- One out of every five students reported being bullied.
- Of those students who reported being bullied, 13% were made fun of, called names or insulted; 13% were the subject of rumors; 5% were pushed, shoved, tripped or spit on; and 5% were deliberately excluded from activities.
- Students who experience bullying are at increased risk for depression, anxiety, sleep problems, poor grades and dropping out of school.
- The reasons for being bullied reported most often by students include physical appearance, race/ethnicity, gender, disability, religion and sexual orientation.
- Students who reported frequently bullying others and students who report being frequently bullied are at increased risk for suicide-related behavior.
Bullies use intimidation as a tool to keep their victims quiet, which makes many kids reluctant to report the behavior. That’s why it’s very important for schools to tackle this subject directly, educating students on what bullying is and what they can do when they witness it or experience it themselves. In fact, research indicates that school-based bullying prevention programs decrease bullying by up to 25%.
Dr. Sue Cohen, director of North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center’s Marks Family Right from the Start 0-3+ Center, treats many children and teens who have experienced bullying, and advises them to use their power to speak up.
“Look the bully in the eye and tell him or her to stop in a calm, firm voice,” she says. “If it seems unsafe, walk away immediately. Either way, tell a trusted adult about the incident.”
Confronting the bully directly may be frightening, she adds, so often it’s easier for the child to tell a parent, teacher or counselor. “Since silence only encourages the bullying behavior, speaking out is crucial. Keep the lines of communication open with your child.”
The prevalence of social media and other technologies has made bullying more pervasive than ever, so kids need to be taught smart ways to protect themselves online—and also how to not be a bully themselves. “Teach your children to be kind to others and to never post anything out of anger or that is gossip,” says Cohen. “Also, let them know they should never pass on a nasty message, photo or rumor about anyone.”
Parents should be on the lookout for signs that their child is using verbal or physical aggression to deal with conflict; talking about getting even with others; or suddenly has items that don’t belong to him/her.
Finally, if you are a parent and your child is being bullied at school or by other students outside of school, don’t confront the bully or the parents. Contact the school principal or guidance counselor, and contact the police if your child is threatened with harm.