Bullying – a definition
Despite the many recent high profile news stories and general feeling that finally bullying is finally on the radar for schools, parents, law enforcement and social workers, etc, many instructors, youth, and even parents remain dismissive of the issue, writing it off as mere “teasing,” or “boys being boys,” etc.. While there may be some truth to the idea that children are naturally both cruel and sensitive, this dismissive attitude ignores the very real long-term effects of bullying on both the victims and the perps.
Bullying is the unwanted, persistent, agressive wielding of power over someone with less social, or physical standing. According to Psychology Today, what makes it different from teasing is generally the intention of the perpetrator. If they’re trying to harm the victim – physically, socially or emotionally, it’s bullying. Teasing can be mean, but the intent is not necessarily to really hurt the victim, and some teasing can even be positive in the “tribe-building,” sense. Of course if the teasing is not friendly and persists, the victim will see few if any differences between bullying and teasing.
Bullying generally falls into 3 categories
- Verbal – persistent, repeated teasing, name calling, sexual taunts, threats
- Physical – kicking, punching, pushing, etc, especially of a smaller victim, stealing and breaking their possessions
- Social – leaving someone out on purpose, gossiping or telling lies about someone, intentionally embarrassing someone in public
All 3 types of bullying are harmful and have the potential for causing long-lasting effects, including depression, lingering anger, and low self-esteem. These effects can last well into adulthood.
Even the bully may have long term negative effects as a result of her bullying including persistent tendency towards substituting violence for problem-solving, and even criminal activity, from vandalism, to gang activity, and domestic abuse.
Is your child being bullied?
Because there’s such a fine line between teasing and bullying, and because kids are often afraid, intimidated or shy about talking about being bullied for fear of being labelled a snitch or a cry baby, it can be tough to know if your kid is being bullied.
Here are a few potential signs your kid is a bullying victim:
- Your child’s appetite changes
- Your child’s interests change
- Your child seems suddenly afraid to go to school, ride the bus, or go to the bathroom alone at school
- Your child suddenly doesn’t like recess or PE
Of course these are all also signs that your child is an adolescent or teenager, so you need to help them talk to you about their issues at school, what goes on during their day, what are they doing when they spend time with their friends, etc.. In addition if your kid is “different,” in some way such as being a special needs child or is LGBT, they are at higher risk for being a bullying victim.
If you see any of these signs, but find that your kids don’t want to talk about it, look for more roundabout ways to start the conversation. If you’re watching TV or a movie together and the program includes an instance of bullying, ask your child how they feel about what they’re seeing, if anything like that has ever happened to them, and what they think the characters should have done or could have done differently.
Helping your bullied child
By listening to your child, helping to maintain a healthy sense of self and self esteem in the face of bullying, and taking appropriate steps with your school system, you could be helping your kids become not just happy, well-adjusted adolescents, but happy, well-adjusted adults as well.