To address the occurrence of bullying adults must be aware of the profile of the victim. Often children are bullied because of their appearance or social status. They may be perceived by the bully as not fitting in because of race, religion or behavior. They may present as passive, easily intimidated, smaller, younger, having few friends or having a hard time fending for themselves.
Boys generally resort to physical intimidation regardless of the gender of the victim. In contrast girls engage in verbally bullying with other girls as the victims or targets. They might snub another girl, encourage exclusion or threaten to withdraw a friendship in an effort to maintain control.
It is not easy to identify the signs of bullying. Unless your child tells you or has bruises or injuries, it can be difficult to determine that this is occurring. However, parents and educators alike must be alert to the warning signs in children.
The readily observable signs are the easy ones. They might include cuts or bruises; stolen or damaged clothing, belongings, books or homework assignments; unwillingness to travel on a bus/train which was the general mode of transportation to school; unwillingness to participate in school activities or sports.
More subtle warning signs of bullying include a child’s acting differently; appearing anxious, nervous or depressed without any apparent cause; having difficulty sleeping; loss of appetite; moodier or more easily upset than is typical for this child; avoiding of certain situations such as the cafeteria, playground, bathroom, or unsupervised hallways.
The ramifications of bullying include low self-esteem, heightened stress as evidenced through depression, anxiety or nervous behaviors; health issues such as irritable bowel syndrome, insomnia, ulcers; a deterioration of school performance. Some victims have attempted suicide rather than endure harassment or punishment.
If your young child witnesses another child being bullied, he must be encouraged to tell you, a teacher or a trusted adult. Quiet acts of courage must be praised, even if they are unsuccessful in their efforts. Teens must tell adults, including guidance counselors, social workers or school psychologists, if behaviors threaten to lead to physical danger and emotional torment. Numerous high school students have died when stalking, threats or attacks have gone unreported.
Understanding the serious social costs of bullying and how to deal with it are vital components of efforts to keep our children safe as they make the long journey into adulthood. A “no tolerance for bullying” policy must be formulated in our communities, our schools and our families in order to protect our children. Schools must implement clear, effective programs with the participation of the faculty, the administration, the student and the parent bodies with outreach to the surrounding communities and businesses. This approach must be combined with safe ways for victims and witnesses to report bullying and abuse in any form and with follow-up processes in place.
Parents, you need to learn, to teach, and to model for your children healthy ways of managing anger and of resolving conflict. You set the bench mark for their behavior. It is important to realize that these skills do not come naturally for many of us. If assistance is needed, family counseling is readily available around the country. It can be accessed both in the private sector, as well as through public health agencies and schools.
If you would like to discuss this or related concerns, feel free to call Dr. Maryann Schaefer at (516)627-1145 for a complimentary consultation.