Most children are subjected to a little lighthearted teasing every now and then. Sometimes, however, that teasing becomes mean spirited and continual, causing the child a great deal of distress. Bullying, this ongoing mistreatment of a child, can have a detrimental impact on a child’s social, academic, and emotional development. Schools are becoming increasingly aware of the problems caused by teasing and bullying, and many are beginning to institute policies on such behaviours.
Bullying can take on several forms, from name calling to physical abuse. In all cases, a child who is bullied suffers at the hands of another single child, or sometimes a group of children. Most bullying falls into one of the following categories:
Portrait of a Bully
Bullying behaviours can begin as early as preschool, but bullying often escalates in preteens and teenagers. Bullies can be boys or girls, although some bullying activities are more commonly found in different genders. For example, boys tend to be more physical in nature than girls so male bullies may punch their victims or intimidate them with threats of violence. Girls, on the other hand are likely to tease their victims or purposefully exclude them from participation in group activities. Girls are more likely to coerce other girls into unwitting participation of the abuse, too, by threatening to exclude them if they befriend the bullying victim. Although there are certainly exceptions, boys tend to participate in isolated instances of bullying while girls are more likely to engage in an ongoing, long-term campaign against a single victim.
There is some evidence to suggest that bullies tend to have an overall lower compassion level than that of their peers, allowing them to participate in mean behaviours without regret or consideration to the feelings of their victims. Most bullies seem to enjoy the sense of power that they have over their victims and get a sense of satisfaction from controlling the situation.
How Bullying Hurts
Victims of bullying can feel frightened, socially isolated, have trouble concentrating, and over time, can suffer from depression, anxiety, and/or low self-esteem. Bullying poses a significant threat to children and should always be taken seriously by parents and school officials.
How to Help
Ignoring the problem will not make it go away – bullying is unacceptable and needs to be stopped by responsible adult intervention. Be sure to listen with empathy if your child says that bullying is making things difficult for them and try to help your child to reach possible solutions. Some ideas for dissuading a bully include:
- Practicing a confident comeback for mean comments that shows the bully that you are not easily troubled by their behaviour.
- Staying in sight of a teacher or another authority figure. Bullies do not want to get caught so a lot of mean behaviours occur out of the presence of adults.
- Ignoring bullying behaviour since a bully craves the response that they get from their victims.
In cases of physical violence of intimidation, children cannot be expected to handle the situation without adult assistance. If necessary, make an appointment to discuss the problem with your child’s teacher to enlist their help. Sometimes, the teacher may be unaware that a problem exists since bullies tend to be sneaky and victims are often afraid to seek help. Bringing the problem out into the open may be all that is needed to stop the unacceptable behaviour.
If your child’s school is not willing or able to control the situation, it may be necessary to talk directly to the bully’s parents. This must be done with caution since very few parents will respond well to accusations about their child. Try to approach the parents by showing an attitude of concern for the fact that the children don’t seem to be getting along well rather than taking the offense in declaring their child to be 100% wrong while yours is 100% right. Together, try to come to a reasonable solution to the problem, which may be to simply encourage the children to leave one another alone.
In extreme cases, you may have to seek the assistance of local law enforcement. Bullying poses immediate risks for the victims, and as we have seen all too often in news stories, long term victimisation can sometimes lead children to lash back in a violent manner. Take bullying seriously from the start to avoid tragic consequences.