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What is Bullying?

What is bullying?

Bullying is a repeated aggressive behavior where one person or group of people in a position of power deliberately intimidates, abuses, or coerces an individual or a group with the intention to hurt that person or that group physically or emotionally. Acts of bullying can be physical or verbal. Incidents of bullying must include all 3 of these characteristics: 

1)Intentional- the behavior was aggressive and a deliberate attempt to hurt another person
2) Repeated- these aggressive actions occur repeatedly over time to the same person or group of people

3) Power imbalance- the person bullying has more physical or social power than the child or children being bullied

What are the different forms of bullying?

 There are four types of bullying, which can occur separately or simultaneously:

     1) Physical bullying such as kicking or pushing
     2) Verbal bullying such as name-calling or yelling
     3) Relational bullying such as excluding or rumor-spreading
     4) Cyberbullying which involves sending hurtful messages over digital devices like computers and cell phones.

Who is at risk?

All young people are in danger of being bullied at some point during their adolescence—but there are certain populations at greater risk. Depending on the environment, some groups—such as youth who are perceived as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered, youth with disabilities, and socially isolated youth—may be more likely to be bullied.

What are the results?     

It probably comes as no surprise, but bullying has been linked to an enormous amount of developmental issues in children – both in those who have been bullied and those who have bullied others. In fact, according to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), bullying has a lifelong impact on the social and emotional development of children that puts them at risk for everything from severe mental health issues to stunted professional growth later in life.

According to the NICHD, children who are involved in bullying experiences (on either side of the situation) are at an increased risk of developing issues such as:

  • Depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and thoughts of suicide, Self-harming behaviors, Social and relationship issues, Behavioral problems
  • Health issues like headaches, sleep problems, abdominal pain, bed-wedding, and fatigue
  • Academic issues including poor attendance, low test scores, and increased dropout rates

Youth who bully:

  • Are at greater risk of smoking tobacco and drinking alcohol
  • Perform poorly in school and have a poor perception of school environment
  • Are more likely to become involved in criminal activity and to experience psychiatric disorders
  • Substance abuse later in life

Bullying can also affect other children who witness the acts – even if they aren’t directly involved – by leaving them feeling insecure in their environments and fearing they could be next. The long-term effects of bullying go well beyond the initial instances and the people at the center of it and can often stay with a person for the remainder of their life. Since bullying can essentially destroy a child’s self-                                                                        esteem, it can manifest itself in ways that will jeopardize future opportunities for years to come.

How to Stop Bullying?

Bullying can take many forms, but all forms of bullying cause harm or worse. Even if there is no physical contact between a bully and their target, people who are bullied may carry the emotional damage of what they experienced for the rest of their lives. That is why it is important to put a stop to bullying. If you are being bullied, then there are things you can do to deal with the bully.

Walk away. If the situation seems threatening or dangerous, it’s best to get away from the bully. Even if it is not a dangerous situation, remember that you don’t have to listen to someone saying mean things to you. The best thing to do might be to calmly walk away from the person. This will send the message that you won’t put up with this kind of treatment. Try to walk towards other people, such as towards a teacher or someone else who will not put up with bullying.

Tell someone so the bully will stop. It’s important to report bullying right away so that someone in authority can put a stop to it. By telling someone that you are being bullied, you will be standing up for yourself and showing the bullies that you will not put up with their abuse. Find a teacher, parent, school counselor, or someone else who can help you and immediately tell them what the bully has been saying or doing to you.

Ask the bully to stop if you feel safe doing so. If you don’t feel physically threatened, using direct, assertive communication and body language is a good way to address a bully. If a bully continues to harass you even after you have walked away, calmly let them know that you will not put up with the behavior. Turn and face the bully and tell them to stop. Don’t try to confront the bully if you feel like doing so might put you in danger.

How to prevent school bullying?

The need to address bullying in schools is significant. However, schools cannot address the issue alone. Preventing bullying requires that parents get involved, too. Here are 10 ways you can help prevent bullying at your child’s school.

  1. Begin at home
    • One of the most important things you can do as a parent is ensuring that your child understands what bullying is. More than a definition, this also includes what bullying can look and feel like. Start by having a conversation with your child about what constitutes healthy friendships and what does not.
  2. Learn the warning signs
    • Many children don’t tell anyone when they have been or are being bullied. Make sure that you can recognize the possible signs that your child is being bullied.
  3. Instill healthy habits
    • It’s very important to instill an anti-bullying mindset in your child. This includes more than just teaching your child not to hit, shove, or tease other kids. Kids should learn that being critical, judgmental, making hurtful jokes, and spreading rumors also are unhealthy and constitute bullying.
  4. Empower your kids
    • One of the most helpful things you can do is provide your kids with tools for dealing with bullying. Walking away, telling an adult, or telling the bully in a firm voice to stop, are all strategies that you can practice with your child.
  5. Become familiar with your school policies
    • It’s important to have a firm grasp on how bullying is handled at your child’s school. This includes knowing which person to call if something happens with your children, as well as having clear expectations for how the situation will be handled.
  6. Report bullying incidents
    • If your child tells you they are being bulled, start by contacting school personnel and ask to meet with them in person. By holding a face-to-face meeting, you are demonstrating that you’re committed to seeing that the issue gets resolved.
    • It can also be useful to document all bullying incidents. This will help you be prepared if the situation escalates and law enforcement or other outside sources need to become involved.
  7. Be an advocate
    • It’s vital to voice your support for bullying prevention, but it’s also important to offer your time. Volunteer to work with your child’s teachers or your school’s guidance counselor to develop an anti-bullying program.
  8. Recruit other parents
    • When a lot of parents are committed to bullying prevention, a school’s program will be more successful. Form a group of motivated parents to help you tackle the issue.
  9. Spend time at school
    • If your schedule permits, accept opportunities to volunteer at school functions and during the day. Sometimes simply having an additional adult around is enough to deter bullying
  10. Ask the PTA/PTO to Sponsor a Bullying-Prevention Program
    • If your child’s school has limited funds for bullying programs, approach your local PTA/PTO and ask for their assistance. You could also suggest a fundraiser to raise awareness and money.

Bullying Red Flags

Signs that your child might be getting bullied at school can include:

  • Avoiding school or activities
  • Change in eating habits
  • Change in hygiene
  • Dropping grades
  • Headaches, stomachaches, and other illnesses
  • Mood and personality changes

Remember, bullying is not a normal part of childhood. Bullying affects everyone. As a parent, you have the power to do something about it. You can empower your child to stand up to bullies and feel that they can let an adult know if they are being bullied and help them understand what constitutes bullying behavior.

You can also set a good example by getting involved with your child’s school and raising awareness and funds to help put bullying prevention measures in place.

Gracia Pierre-Pierre, MD CAQSM