We hear much in the news today about bullying and it is important for us to know more about bullying and what we can do to help the problem. Bullying and victimization are common experiences for children and adolescents. Most American students report having witnessed or participated in bullying by being a victim or a bully in their schools and peer groups.
Unlike children simply fighting, bullying has three important components:
1) It is repeated;
2) it is meant to physically and emotionally harm another; and
3) the bully is physically, socially or psychologically more powerful than the victim.
Children may have occasional fights or conflicts with peers, but if they have relatively equal power we wouldn’t consider it bullying. It is also important that you recognize that rough-and–tumble play can evolve into bullying if more powerful kids persist at it.
Taunting, teasing and threatening with the intent to harm can be bullying. Bulling can also occur indirectly – spreading harmful rumors or gossip behind their back can be bullying, as is consistently excluding someone from groups and social activities. This indirect bullying is harder for adults to spot. Some psychologists believe that older children and adolescents begin to prefer verbal and social forms of bullying because they are more socially skilled and know that adults will punish physical aggression more harshly.
All of these forms have the potential to cause harmful effects, including cyber-bulling, cell-phones texting, and social media sites.
While we know that not all bullying causes the victim serious harm, we know that kids who report frequent or regular bullying are much more likely to have very serious short-and long-term problems like depression, anxiety, poor school performance, and are at greater risk for school dropout.
Bullies are also more likely to have similar problems. Schools or organizations that tolerate bullying often lose the trust of the children or adolescents they serve.
The most effective prevention involves cooperation among teachers, schools, parents and communities. Prevention techniques tend to work best if there is a long term commitment. Talk to all the children and adolescents in your life about bullying.
- Set up a way for kids to confidentially report bullying and ensure that adults promptly respond.
- Set up clear expectations. Adults who consistently make sure kids know what bullying is and make it clear that is not tolerated tend to have fewer problems.
- Know that intervening helps. Many adults and kids hesitate to intervene because they think bullying is accepted by others or that their actions won’t matter. Most of the time when an adult or child speaks out, the bullying ends quickly.
- Keep records to track how often the problem happens and to identify consistent bullies or victims.
- Know what the policies are. Educate yourself about the policies in place for your state, school, program, or other settings in which you are working.
- If a child is a victim of bullying, take his reports seriously and don’t attribute issues to normal childhood experience. Talk to the child about their feelings, attitudes, and concerns. Develop safety strategies and talk to the child about their comfort level of reporting to authorities such as school personnel. Do not force the child to confront the bully or report the incident if he or she is not yet comfortable with it. Finally, try to empower the child by finding ways to change the situation – not just for that child but also for others.
For additional information on this topic visit the website www.StopBullyingNow.hrsa.gov or contact your local University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension office.