Bullying at School: Empower Your Child to Stand up to Bullies
Bullying is a serious problem for youth. One in five youth report being bullied at school (National Center for Education Statistics, 2022). Often, no adults or peers step in to help.
Bullying can have serious negative effects, not only on the child being bullied, but also on bystanders and the person doing the bullying. It can cause students to miss school and can lead to a decline in academic performance. It can also affect a child’s mental health, leading to or worsening anxiety and depression, and can contribute to thoughts of suicide. Even though it’s a difficult topic, it’s important for you to be able to talk with your child and take action when bullying occurs.
Manage your own feelings first
When your child comes home from school upset because someone has been mean or aggressive, it’s natural to be upset yourself. But it’s important to stay calm, take time to understand what happened, and reassure your child that you will take steps to keep them safe.
Is it bullying or just a normal disagreement?
Not every fight or disagreement is bullying. A one-time negative encounter with a peer or friend is not bullying. Bullying involves a pattern of aggressive behavior, such as a more powerful kid targeting a weaker one.
To assess if the event was an argument versus bullying, ask your child:
- Was there aggression (physical, verbal, or social)?
- Was there dominance or a power difference (i.e., a big senior against a small freshman)?
- Has this happened more than once? If so, how many times?
You will also need to determine if there was any physical contact or threat. In some cases, such as with an older child or teen, the occurrence can actually be a crime, and you may want to contact the police.
Cyberbullying is bullying that occurs online, through social media, text messages, emails, or online gaming forums. Approximately 15% of youth report being cyberbullied (National Center for Education Statistics, 2022). Cyberbullying can include:
- Posting harmful comments or rumors about someone
- Posting private information that could be embarrassing, such as pictures or video
- Encouraging self-harm or suicide
Reduce the risk of your child being cyberbullied by being aware of your child’s use of social media, apps, and internet browsing. You may want to consider parental control software that is available to restrict the content available to your child.
Report cyberbullying to the online service provider, which can take action against the bully. If there are threats of harm or sexually explicit contact, report the cyberbullying to law enforcement.
How to Help
Start by calmly asking questions about the incident:
- What happened?
- What started the incident?
- Did you ask the other child to stop?
- Were there any witnesses?
Don’t underestimate the power of empathetic listening. Allow your child to talk about their feelings and assure them that the bullying is not their fault. Don’t tell your child to ignore the bullying.
Work with your child’s school to address the problem.
Contact your child’s teacher or school counselor to develop a plan to keep your child safe.
Empower your child.
Children with less self-esteem are less likely to stand up for themselves and more likely to be bullied. Discuss how your child can avoid being taken advantage of and who he or she can talk to as an ally at school. You may want to role-play ways your child can respond to the bully directly and with minimal emotion. Maintain open, supportive lines of communication about what’s going on and offer ideas about how your child can cope.
Children who are perceived by peers as different can be at higher risk for bullying. Differences in appearance, sexual orientation, gender identity or presentation, disability, or race and ethnicity may put your child at risk. Remember that no one deserves to be bullied and your child may need additional help from you to figure out how best to react to negative attention from bullies.
If you do not feel your efforts to help your child are working, don’t hesitate to seek professional help.
For more information about bullying and how to help your child stand up to it, visit stopbullying.gov. For more parenting tips, please visit the Growing section of our Lifespan Living health and wellness blog.
About the Author:
Donald Laliberte, LICSW
Donald Laliberte, LICSW, is the Director of Access and Assistant Director of Lifespan Pediatric Behavioral Health Emergency Services.
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