Bullying and Kids - The Facts
What is bullying?
By Lisa Murphy
A shy boy gets pushed in the playground and called a "loser". A tween girl is shunned by her peers after an instant-message exchange bashes her as a "freak" and a "slut". No matter how it happens, bullying and cyber bullying has the same harmful effects on its victims: heightening their risk of anxiety, depression and health problems and lowering school attendance and grades. In some rare and horrific instances, bullying may even be linked to suicide or murder.
Up to 25 per cent of kids are bullied, yet only a quarter-to-a-half of those tell their parent or another adult about it. While parents may feel that bullying is a normal part of childhood that kids need to deal with, it's actually a form of abuse that many victims feel powerless to stop. "The most important thing a parent can do is to make time to listen and talk to their children every day," says Dr. Rachel C. Vreeman, a pediatrician and researcher at Indiana University in Bloomington who has studied anti-bullying programs in schools. "Asking your child how they feel at school, what lunch time or the bus ride is like, whether other kids ever call them mean names or tease them, or whether they feel afraid at school, will help you to understand what actions you need to take - whether it's advocating for better school rules, teaching a child to be more assertive, or offering more careful supervision for children who bully."
Bullying and cyber bullying typically involves a power imbalance where one child is (often repeatedly) hurt by one or more powerful kids. Harm can result from physical bullying, such as hitting and shoving, verbal abuse in the form of insults or threats, or social bullying in which kids spread mean rumors about another child, or openly exclude them from a group. This last form of bullying can be as or more harmful than the others, but not necessarily recognized by parents as abusive. "It's okay not to invite someone to a birthday party," explains Dr. Susan Limber, a director at the Institute on Family & Neighborhood Life at Clemson University in South Carolina and co-author of the soon-to-be-published book, Cyber Bullying: Bullying in the Digital Age (Blackwell). "But if you go out of your way to make someone feel hurt and taunt them that they weren't invited, that's bullying."
Awareness and positive action can significantly reduce bullying. Do your part by recognizing when your child is being bullied, if your child is bullying others, and what you can do to prevent and stop bullying when it occurs. Abuse often halts within seconds when adults or children intervene. "Speaking up makes others know that bullying is inappropriate," says Dr. Limber. "It speaks volumes to the bully, the child being bullied and to bystanders." In some cases, actions may speak louder than words and keep your child safe. "A child can tell an adult, or simply be a good friend to the kid who is being bullied, expressing to them after the fact that no one deserves to be treated like that," adds Limber.