With school starting, few topics are as important to discuss as bullying. This is a concern to parents, students, teachers, and administration; hence, it is an issue for the community. To create lasting change, it takes all of us working together. Research shows the quality of a school’s culture makes a tremendous difference in the amount of bullying that takes place, however, no school is immune from the act of bullying.
So what is bullying? “Bullying is unwanted aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated or has the potential to be repeated, over time.” Bullying includes making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose. Cyberbullying is the same as traditional bullying in that it is intentional, aggressive, repetitious and has a power differential. However, the real difference in cyberbullying is that digital media allows it to take place 24/7. There are three types of bullying; verbal, social and physical. Verbal bullying includes teasing, name-calling, inappropriate sexual comments, taunting and threatening to cause harm. Social bullying includes leaving someone out on purpose, telling others not to be friends with someone, spreading rumors and embarrassing someone in public. Physical bullying can be hitting, kicking, spitting, pushing, taking/breaking someone’s things and making mean/rude hand gestures. There are three individuals involved in bullying. The one being bullied, the one doing the bullying and the bystander/witness.
The important question you are probably thinking is, “What can I do as a parent/adult?” If you have not already, please talk with your child about bullying. Clearly define it for them and make sure they understand the first step to take if they are bullied is to tell someone! Specifically, a parent, adult at school or friend. If you are concerned that your child may be a victim of bullying, look for symptoms such as an altered mood, withdrawn or anti-social behavior, change in relationships, decline in academic performance, appearing anxious at the sound of text or email. If your child has witnessed bullying you may see the first three symptoms listed above, plus they may show fear of retaliation or alienation. If your child is showing symptoms of mood changes that involve aggressive behavior, if they use tactics to be in control, and they demonstrate a lack of empathy toward friends and family, they could be bullying.
Bullying has a long-lasting effect on an individual’s life. Mental health can be affected by low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, insomnia, substance abuse and suicidal ideation. Physical health problems can be exhibited through headaches, abdominal pain, dizziness, sleeping problems, or bedwetting. Social health may be negatively affected by a sense of not belonging and delinquent/criminal behavior. Working together to create positive relationships with caring adults alters the negative impact of peer aggression for mistreated students, the aggressors and the witnesses.
Connection is key. Having an adult students can count on at home and at school is vital to healthy development. In closing, I want to encourage our youth to be an active bystander. Help others who are being bullied. Be a friend, even if this person is not yet your friend. Let them know you think what just happened was wrong. Encourage them to talk with an adult. Offer to go with them. Stop spreading untrue/harmful messages just because everyone else is doing it. Reach out to people who are alone or new at your school. Respect others even though they are different from you. Being different makes us all unique. Make your school a safe and better place!