From the time our children are toddlers, the sight of another child pushing them at the playground, or refusing to play with them, provokes a response which lies somewhere between fear, frustration and anger. We hope that bullying is something our children never have to go through, yet if we are one of the unlucky ones who are affected by bullying, we need to face the issue with strength, courage and the knowledge that we are not alone.
Profile of a Bully: One Size Does Not Fit All
Psychogical journals and writings often present bullies as loners or low achievers with poor interpersonal skills, who often belong to dysfunctional families. Several factors have been thought to contribute to the creation of a bully, including physical punishment, aggressive behaviour in the adults surrounding the bully, violence in the media, problems with processing emotions and even psychiatric disease like schizophrenia.
Yet bullying is a much more intricate and complex topic, and the act of bullying does not always involve physical aggression or intimidating behaviour. Bullying is ultimately about the abuse of power; one person or group of people may take advantage of a power imbalance related to social class, ability, religion, ethnicity or race. Bullying can be overt or subtle and many bullies can be persuasive, charismatic and possess the ability to wield great influence over their schoolmates. So-called ‘micro-aggressive behaviours’ can be witnessed by adult bullies in work environments, though children can use the same subtle tactics to make another child feel lonely, ostracised or threatened.
Signs Your Child May Be a Victim of Bullying
Bullies have the uncanny ability to make other children feel worthless and ashamed, despite having done nothing to merit such negative treatment. Children will sometimes be reticent to inform parents they are being bullied, fearing they will not be understood. Parents need to be watchful for the following signs:
- Kids may begin to make excuses for not wanting to go to school, alleging typical illnesses such as a stomach-ache or headache.
- Their possessions may be lost or broken.
- They may come home with more scrapes or bruises than is habitual.
- They may show behavioural changes, including moodiness, an inability to sleep, crying or silence.
- They may begin bullying younger siblings.
- They may change their eating habits.
- They may come home earlier than expected, alleging cancelled activities and classes.
- They may act moody or depressed after going online or receiving a text message on their mobile.
The Advent of Cyberbullying
In the 20th century, bullying was mainly associated with physical and verbal abuse, but the Internet boom has led to the advent of text and cyber-bullying (sending abusive texts or using social networks to humiliate another person).
Cyber bullying can be infinitely more harmful because it is neither limited to a specific situation or place, nor is it witnessed by a particular group. Rather, messages, videos and pictures have the potential to go viral on the Internet, leading to severe humiliation for the object of the bullying behaviour. One of the most famous cases of cyber bullying is that of Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old university student who committed suicide shortly after his roommate illegally filmed him in a romantic encounter.
Another new trend is called ‘Hot or Not’; it involves rating ‘friends’ as ‘hot or not’ on Facebook, leading to segregation and hurt feelings for many.
Facebook’s rules indicate that the site is only to be used by those aged 13 above, though you parents should ensure that their children are using the site appropriately.
If you allow your kids to have a Facebook profile, make sure to teach them how to use the privacy settings so only a limited group can see their comments, private photos, etc.. Also, show them how to ‘block’ bullies and to report inappropriate behaviour. If necessary, teach them how to close their account.
Advise your kids to keep copies of all abusive texts, e-mails, comments or messages. Also, instruct them not to answer a bully’s text or comments, as it may could lead to a destructive cycle.
Childline.org.uk has a dedicated telephone service and chatline, in which children can chat with a ChildLine counsellor about the matters which are worrying them. If the bullying behaviour is of a sexual nature, contact the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre on +44 (0)870 000 3344. ChildLine also provides the numbers kids should call if they are being bullied on their phone.
Bullying itself is not a legal offence but the behaviours involved in it (harassment, threats) are. Don’t be afraid to report such behaviour to your child’s school in the first instance, and to the police if the bullying involves criminal behaviour. The latter includes violence, text abuse or money demands. The bully should be over the age of criminal responsibility (which is 10 in England and Wales).
More organisations offering support, information and advice include:
Beat Bullying in particular emphasises the importance not only of defensive strategies, but of assertive actions which promote a ‘no-tolerance for bullying’ atmosphere at school. Children are invited to become anti-bullying activists by joining a nationwide campaign and even dreaming up new ways to raise funds for this worthy cause. The organisation trains children aged 11 and above to be BeatBullying Mentors, showing them that they have the power to change (and even save) lives. The organisation even offers free anti-bullying lesson plans for kids to give their teachers. Schools should establish themselves as bully-free zones, so it is vital for teachers to be proactive.
What if Your Child is Bullying Others?
It can be equally hard on a parent who is informed by the school that their child is being bullied, as it is on a parent whose child is the victim. It is important to be supportive and to listen to what the school has to say with an open mind. Many children encounter severe distress before actually complaining; some miss months of school because of their level of fear of a bully. To imagine what it is like for these kids and their parents, we recommend the book Bullycide – Death at Playtime, by Neil Marr and Tim Field. Bullying UK, meanwhile, offers a few useful questions to think about, including:
- Are you confrontational?
- Are you critical of teaching staff in front of your child?
- Do you try to work with the school on problems? Do you tell your children to hit back?
- Do you give your children space to tale about things that may be upsetting them?