Bullying is one of the most difficult experiences a child or teen can have.  Besides the direct injury, the aftermath of bullying—the self-doubt, the fear, the sense of isolation– can haunt the victim for years, often casting a shadow into adulthood.  Parents armed with an understanding of bullying, and supplied with information and resources about how to help, can play a critical role in preventing bullying or in minimizing the consequences of the experience.

Types of bullying:

  • physical, verbal, and emotional bullying;
  • being bullied through lies and rumors;
  • having money or other items taken or damaged;
  • being socially excluded;
  • being forced to do things;
  • cyberbullying (In many ways not only the newest, but also the most insidious form of bullying; it will be discussed in detail in a second article).

Frequency

A recent study surveyed 43,321 teens ages 15 to 18, from 78 public and 22 private schools. It found 50% said they had “bullied, teased or taunted someone at least once,” and 47% had been “bullied, teased or taunted in a way that seriously upset me at least once.”

Who is bullied?

Those with medical problems with easily identifiable features:

  • Overweight or underweight: Underweight boys and girls are more likely to be physical and relational victims. Overweight boys and girls are more likely to be verbal victims.
  • On chemotherapy (baldness)
  • Cystic fibrosis (short stature); chronic heart conditions; asthma

    Other clinical conditions

  • Type I diabetes—(35% of these children and teens believed they would be judged less favorably)
  • Learning disabilities
  • Psychological and behavioral diagnoses, including those of family members (children have been mocked when a family member has mental illness)
  • Special needs/remedial classes
  • Deafness

Children with other differences that are easily recognizable—color of skin, accent, unusually tall or short–or who are “different” in other ways—religion, sexual orientation, the way they dress, academic excellence, name.

When a parent might suspect that a child is being bullied

  • The child comes home with torn, damaged, or missing pieces of clothing, books, or other belongings
  •  has unexplained cuts, bruises, and scratches
  •  has few, if any, friends with whom he or she spends time
  •  seems afraid of going to school or walking to and from school
  • seems afraid to ride the school bus or take part in activities with peers (such as clubs)
  • takes a long, “illogical” route when walking to or from school or the bus stop
  • has lost interest in schoolwork or suddenly begins to do poorly in school
  • appears sad, moody, teary, or depressed when he or she comes home
  •  talks frequently about headaches, stomach-aches, or other physical problems
  • has trouble sleeping or has frequent bad dreams
  • has a loss of appetite
  • appears anxious and/or suffers from low self-esteem

Clinical symptoms

  •  loss of interest in schoolwork or suddenly begins to do poorly in school
  • appears sad, moody, teary, or depressed
  •  talks frequently about headaches, stomach-aches, or other physical problems
  •  has trouble sleeping or has frequent bad dreams
  • has a loss of appetite
  • appears anxious and/or suffers from low self-esteem

If  children have one of more of these symptoms, they should be seen by their medical provider for evaluation.

What parents can do if their child is bullied

  • Never tell your child to ignore the bullying
  • Don’t assume your child did something to provoke the bullying
  • Allow your child to talk about the experience and empathize with them
  • Discourage physical retaliation
  • Contact the school immediately and share your concerns
  • Encourage your child to make contact with friendly students in his or her class
  • If you or your child needs additional help, see a mental health professional

Recommendations parents can make to reduce the risk of their child being bullied

  • Walk in a group whenever possible
  • Avoid unsupervised areas
  • Leave the scene, if possible, especially if you can walk toward an adult
  • Stand tall; work on a stone-faced gaze
  • Say “no” or “no way” or “cut it out.”  Pleading makes it worse
  • Identify a trusted adult you can always go to