Bullying…Is It More Than Sticks and Stones?

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Bullying is thought of as being an ordinary passage of growing up. We all remember being pelted with some sort of hurtful words. Some kids remember being beaten up on the playground. Although this wounded many children of generations past, it wasn’t always taken seriously. When we hear the word “bully”, we continue to think of it as not a big deal. However, bullying has changed. It is more than words or getting teased on the playground. It is inescapable harassment, physical assault, verbal abuse, and a constant barrage of cyber attacks that leave kids feeling defeated, fearful, and alone.

According to Maureen Hackett, a mental health child advocate, children and teens are at fragile stages in their development of identity and self esteem. Their relationships with peers are an integral part of how they see themselves and how they view their sense of worth. This is just one of the aspects that make bullying so dangerous. Hackett goes on to say that the young victims look to their parents and other adults in their life for validation, appreciation and protection. When parents, teachers, or other adults in children’s lives don’t take bullying seriously or fail to help them, the child is hurt further. Many times this intensifies the bullying children are experiencing.

There is also no escape. While home used to be a safe haven, now there is an onslaught of cyber bullying so the terrorizing often continues at home, even in the child’s own room.

What can we do to help with this crisis that happens every day, everywhere, to many children? The first step may be getting involved with the law. Encourage the state to recognize bullying as a form of abuse. Currently, the word “bullying” minimizes what our children are going through on an emotional, or even physical level. They are being terrorized.

Warning signs your children are being bullied:

  1. They come home with torn, damaged, or missing pieces of clothing, books, or other belongings.
  2. They have unexplained cuts, bruises, and scratches.
  3. They complain about not having friends.
  4. They seem afraid of going to school, walking to and from school, riding the school bus, or taking part in organized activities with peers (such as clubs).
  5. They have no interest in school or her grades. She begins to struggle with school.
  6. They are weepy, sad, moody, or depressed when she comes home from school.
  7. They complain frequently of headaches, stomachaches, or other physical ailments.
  8. They experience a loss of appetite or begin to gain weight.
  9. They appear anxious and suffer from low self-esteem.

The best advice for parents regarding helping your child is take it seriously. Do not minimize it. Write everything down (for future reference).

More tips for parents with children who are being bullied:

  1. You need a plan and you need to make an appointment with your child’s teacher. Share your plan with the teacher and make sure that it includes the time spent at both school and home.
  2. Talk to your child with a private or school counselor. This will help reinforce your child’s sense of worth, and many counselors have ideas of how best to intervene using other resources. If your child has a private counselor, he should visit the school in order to help support the teacher’s efforts.
  3. Limit your child’s computer time and have her share threats she is receiving with you. If your child has a cell phone, be aware of how much texting is taking place.  Make sure you have a copy of these threats in case you need legal help.
  4. If there is not an improvement within a week, it is time to take it to either the principal (if the abuse is happening at school) or other person in charge.

Tips if you are the parent of a bully:

  1. Your child needs counseling along with a professional assessment from a psychiatrist (Your whole family may be encouraged to attend). Bully behavior is learned and suggests that there may be a “bully mentor” in your home.
  2. Make a doctor’s appointment for your child. Sometimes children act out with impulsive and angry behaviors when there is something wrong with them medically (a hormone imbalance, for example).
  3. Set firmer limits at home. Limit your child’s ability to text and use the Internet.
  4. Violence toward your child (spanking, etc.) will not stop the behavior and may make their bully maneuvers more intense. Overprotecting your child and telling yourself that it is normal child behavior doesn’t work either. There is nothing normal about hurting another child. You need to act and you need to do it now.

Behind every bully who is terrorizing another child, there is a parent who has ignored the bully’s behaviors and decided that it will go away on its own. Bullying does not go away. It usually gets worse, and intervention on both the parent’s behalf (the parents of the bully and the parents of the child being bullied) works best.

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Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC, is a licensed psychotherapist and co-author with Janine J. Sherman, of Start Talking: A Girl’s Guide for You and Your Mom About Health, Sex or Whatever. Read more about the book at www.StartTalkingBook.com and more about Rapini at www.maryjorapini.com.

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