What is bullying?
Types of bullying include physical bullying, psychological or emotional bullying and more recently cyber bullying. It is a mistake to assume one form is more severe than another as all of these experiences can have serious effects on the victim.
Bullying is distinct from banter when the victim is being negatively affected by the interaction. Some children experience being bullied when the alleged perpetrator may have little or no knowledge of the effects of this behaviour. A perpetrator therefore becomes a true bully when they persist with the taunts, exclusion or physical attacks despite being informed of the effect on the other person.
There is also another form of bullying known as ‘exclusion’. This is harder to tackle and can have serious impact on many young people. In many school environments peer groups can from and this group mentality can create dynamics that involve a form of collective bullying where young people are deliberately left out of activities or removed from groups or clicks without any obvious reason. This form of bullying can cause young people to feel isolated, left out and inadequate. This is a common occurrence mostly seen in girls and due to the social climbing nature of many school environments can trigger many serious mental health problems.
There is also the issue of cyberbullying which involves the use of technology such as mobile phones, smart phones and social media to bully or taunt young people. This is also problematic due to the potential impact of the action and the accessibility of the bully to intrude on the young person 24 hours a day. Cyber bullying is one of the serious downsides to our recent technological advances and one that is very difficult to regulate or detect or stop. It is my view that this will become a major feature of mental health services going future and I fear for the possible implications.
Bullying is not a new phenomenon but would appear to be having more serious effects on young people in recent years. The term bullycide and cyber bullying are now features of our everyday discourse and therefore perhaps the potential impact of bullying in today’s society is greater than before.
Bullying can occur anywhere, to anyone at any age and perhaps considering it as a childhood issue is a mistake. There is a lot of connotations to the words being bullied that many victims find uncomfortable and strenuously deny but the reality is that any action that is intended to cause discomfort and upset to another individual that is deliberate and intentional should qualify as bullying behaviour.
As a parent, being alert and vigilant is critical since many victims are often reluctant to share the fact that they are being bullied.
Reasons why children may not report bullying:
- They are embarrassed, feel intimidated or are fearful of disclosing this fact.
- They fear being accused of being a tell tale
- They feel there is nothing that adults can do
- They fear reporting it will make it worse
Warning signs to look out for if you fear your child is being bullied
- Torn clothes, damaged property or repeated loss of property upon return from school
- Cuts, bruises with unusual explanations
- A reluctance to go to school and multiple headaches, tummy aches and other ailments
- Illogical routes to commute to school
- Nightmares or sleep problems
- Loss of interest in school work or a deterioration in grades
- Irritability, mood shifts or temper outbursts
- Unusual requests for money
- Social isolation, lack of invites or refusal to attend peer parties (often the act of shunning others may be a defence against the fear of ‘being’ shunned by peers)
What to do if my child is being bullied?
- Firstly ask your child and if denied ask the teachers in their school
- Remember to control your emotions when discussing with your child or the school
- Try to stick to the facts and avoid concentrating on the punishment of the perpetrators, remember that a careful, thoughtful management of these situations has a better outcome then a rash haphazard one.
- Contact the school and devise a plan of action.
- Inform the child of who you will be talking to and what you intend to say.
- Increase the formality of your contact with the school the longer the problem persists
- Keep an accurate log of incidents.
How to speak to your child who is being bullied
- Listen carefully and empathise with their experiences.
- Do not over react or under react, neither is helpful
- Don’t lay blame on the victim or interrogate what they have done to ‘bring this on themselves’
- Expect behavioural changes at home and manage these mindfully
- Encourage open communication with you regarding ongoing experiences.
Teaching your child to be safe
- Remember hitting back often only results in the victim getting in trouble despite the obvious desire to promote this.
- Encourage the child to walk away and seek adult help.
- Explore any provocative victim behaviours that may be fuelling the difficulties
- Help your child to practice managing their reactions to being bullied as it is often the reaction that is the desire outcome of the bullying.
- Provide the child with a ‘buddy’ or nominated support in school.
What are the effects of bullying?
- Loss of confidence and damaged self esteem and self worth
- Mood problems and depression
- Academic deterioration
- Sleep and appetite problems
- Body image issues,
- Isolation and developmental disruption
Protecting your child’s self esteem
- Educate your child about bullying and encourage that it is more about them then you and discourage taking the taunts personally
- Role model body language that demonstrates confidence
- Pay attention to any social skills deficits
- Identify and encourage the child’s talents and positive attributes
- Encourage other networks like scouts, clubs etc.
Signs that a child that may have a potential to bully
- Displays a strong need to dominate and impose themselves on others and to be popular or cool.
- Intimidates smaller children or siblings
- Brags about actual or imagined superiority
- Hot tempered, easily angered and low frustration tolerance
- Tendency to cheat in games and hate losing
- Oppositional toward adults
- Premature anti-social behaviour.
What to do if my child is identified as a bully?
- Take the issue seriously and avoid excuses
- Listen carefully to the facts and avoid being manipulated by one sided accounts
- Try to determine a pattern for the behaviour and identify possible triggers
- Explore explanations for the behaviour
- Be mindful of your behaviour and possible negative role modelling
- Encourage empathy with regard to the consequences of the child’s behaviour.