According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, roughly one in five students will report being bullied at school. Bullying has become an incredibly common epidemic, and though most of us pray that our young students will never have to face this issue, the reality is that threats, hitting, gossip, and harassment have become routine occurrences in the American classroom. And for anyone with young children or teens at home, it’s critical to be prepared for it.
What is school bullying?
The definition of bullying is the abuse and mistreatment of someone vulnerable by someone in a position of power. This abuse is often shown through repeated patterns of misbehavior over time. Key things for invested adults to note is that bullying always takes advantage of a power imbalance, in which the bully uses their power for the purposes of deliberate mistreatment. This power can be physical strength, larger size, older age, better social position, more popularity, etc. Nowadays, bullying can happen at school or outside of it and online or in person. It also comes in many forms, so let’s take a look at them.
What does bullying look like?
In general, we like to believe that “we’ll know it when we see it”—but bullying can happen in several ways, and it’s not always easy to catch them:
- Verbal bullying – Includes unwanted words designed to humiliate, harass, or degrade a target, with the bully using their power to assert their dominance in a social situation.
- Physical bullying – Includes physical harm or domination by an aggressor, such as hitting, punching, or pushing, but it can also include the destruction of a victim’s belongings.
- Social bullying – Includes things like exclusion from a group or spreading embarrassing rumors to peers. This type of bullying is usually linked to verbal bullying.
- Cyberbullying – This is essentially verbal or social bullying that occurs online. It can also extend to things like stalking, sending harassing messages or photos, etc.
How can you stop bullying at school?
Parents and adults can play a key role in anti-bullying strategies, simply by keeping a watchful eye out and preparing a few preventative measures. For example, adults should be on the lookout for signs and symptoms of bullying, including physical wounds like cuts or bruises, damaged books or property, or torn clothing. Other signs of bullying may show up through a shift in the child’s temperament, such as a sudden reluctance to attend school, bad dreams or frequent crying, fear of rejection, and social isolation from other children in the school.
In addition, adults should make sure that their students know what to do when bullying occurs. Ideally, students should ignore bullies as the first line of defense, trying to remove themselves from the situation without resorting to retaliation of any kind. Encourage your child to find a safe space if she ever feels someone is about to hurt her, or to find an adult, older child, or friend group that can serve as protection from the bully. Students should also tell a trusted adult, especially because many of these types of bullying can initially be difficult for teachers and parents to detect.
Adults should also ensure that their children know they can be trusted to take a stand against bullies. If your child or student ever approaches you with descriptions of bullying, be sure to listen carefully, show sympathy and support, and encourage them to share their feelings without judgment.
Once a known incidence of bullying has taken place, adults should then work with the school to take care of the issue. It can be difficult not to become emotional when your child has been victimized, but it’s important to try to stick to the facts as much as possible, ensuring that the child’s teachers and parents can work together to make sure the child is protected in the future.
Even after the issue has been resolved, it’s important to nurture your child’s self-esteem as much as possible. Victims of bullying often take the attacks to heart, and their trust and confidence levels may be shattered following what they’ve endured. Verbally take note of their talents, praise their achievements, and encourage them to reach out to and socialize with friendly peers to rebuild their sense of self-worth.
For kids who are bullied, it’s easy to feel afraid and alone. Bullying impacts self-esteem, friendships, and even health—which is why it’s so critical for kids to feel not only safe and understood but also empowered with the knowledge of how to handle this unfortunate but common situation. If you suspect a child you know is being bullied, approach them and work to support them in their next steps.