Go to fullsize imageOh goodness!  Let’s hope that’s not what happens to our kids!

Unfortunately, bullying at all age levels seems to either be getting either more and more prevalent or just more public.  I think that bullying has always been around but not to the degree of meanness that it has come to now.  When you see all the online videos of kids beating up another child because they said something that was “unaccepted”, it makes you a little nervous to send your child into that world when school starts.

I also recently just read the book “Nineteen Minutes” by Jodi Picoult.  A very interesting take on bullying.  You have the view point of the bully, the bullied, and those that allowed the bullying to occur.  With a surprising ending and many dramatic (traumatic?) events, this book makes you think a little differently about the different ways that bullying can occur and also how people deal with it in different ways.

When I think about bullying, I really don’t have too much experience on the receiving end until my adult life believe it or not.  It wasn’t until being in a competitive college program that I really noticed how cut throat people can be to try and gain power.  I continued to see this and once and a while experience an act of bullying.  People trying to secure their position in social circles at the expense of others.  As you age, you realize that people can be really selfish and I think that’s what drives the bullying (whether unconscious or consciously) throughout life.

I have seen bullying already in my kids preschool.  Kids excluding others for one silly reason or another.  My child, was labelled a bully just because he kicked a few kids in the head at the beginning of the year (I know, I couldn’t believe it but his soft heart became evident as he adjusted.  Thank Goodness!)  It must be somewhat of an innate drive for power that we are born with.  It is our job as “responsible” adults and parents to teach our children what is “right” and what is “wrong”.  It is also our job to protect our children from being emotionally or physically harmed from bullying and I strongly feel from being harmed by becoming a bully.  Afterall, whether you are the bully or the bullied, the acts of violence come to hinder your learning, social/emotional interactions, and can lead to continued acts of violence.  Here are some facts and things to look for that signal acts of bullying or that your child may have observed such an act and have accepted it as being “normal”/acceptable.

Definition:  “A person is being bullied when he or she is exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more people. Bullying can take many forms – both direct and indirect – but always involves a power imbalance that makes it difficult for the victim to defend him or herself.”

Direct Acts of Bullying:  Hitting, shoving, namecalling, mocking, threats, extortion for money or goods such as treasured possessions. 

Direct acts of bullying are easy to spot and for whatever reason, this is the form of bullying that boys and men will most often exhibit, especially at younger ages.  For whatever reason, they are wired in a more simple way and will “fight it out” physically before they approach the emotional aspects.

Indirect Acts of Bullying:  Beginning and contributing to the spread of hurtful/negative rumors, Intentional exclusion from social circles, verbal manipulation or just manipulating in general, preventing someone from becoming part of particular social groups or friendship circles.

Indirect acts of bullying are unfortunately very common, especially among girls and women.  Females tend to be more in tune with the effects of emotional manipulation and feelings.  Female bullys actually enjoy and will receive positive feedback from peers for being able to emotionally control a victim.  It’s a subversive act of controlling others for power.  In my reading, I found that this type of bullying is rampant in the workplace among adults (but that is another dissertation all together!)

How do you spot acts of bullying?:  40-75% of bullying takes place during breaks during the school day.  Such as recess, waiting to enter the classroom in the morning, lunch hour in the cafeteria, in the hallways, and secluded areas such as the bathroom.  Bullys know what they are doing is wrong, no matter what age they are, and will try to hide their repeated acts of physical/emotional violence, making it a little more difficult for others to spot.  Here’s a short list of things to look for with your child (believe it or not, this is a very short description of bullying):  coming home with damaged clothing, school items, or loses items with no explanation;  bruises, cuts, or injuries that are not explainable; loss of interest in school and a decrease in school performance (grades, activities, etc);  does not bring friends to your home or rarely wants to spend time with other students after school, takes illogical routes to, from or through hallways at school, finds excuses not to go to school in the morning, seems unhappy or depressed with sudden mood swings that involve anger and frustration, decrease in appetite, stomach aches and/or headaches, restless sleep that may include crying or nightmares.

How do know if your child is a bully?:  Children who admit to regular bullying tend to show the following characteristics;   impulsive, hot-headed, shows little to no empathy, easily frustrated, has difficulty following rules, and views violence in a positive way.  Ironically, bullies have an easy time making friends and have average to above average self esteem.

Not surprisingly, a child’s home life will contribute GREATLY to their tendency to be become a bully. 

Here are some characteristics in a person’s homelife that tend to produce bullies:  lack of warmth or involvement on the part of the parents; overly permissive parents (households that lack consequences for negative actions); lack of supervision by parents; harsh physical discipline; parents modeling forms of bullying (parents can be huge examples for children to learn bullying from.  They will show ways to exclude others or talk openly and maliciously about others in front of the children.  After all, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree). 

What you can do to stop the bully cycle:  #1, the most important thing you can do is be involved in your child’s school and social life.  Now, don’t be controlling but just aware.  The bully and the victim both tend to have uninvolved parents.  So, be involved and know how your child treats others including how their social group treats others.  Encourage your child to not just be a bully bystander.  Help them identify bullying among their peers and let them know that it is not okay.  Encourage them to defend any bully victims by telling an appropriate adult but don’t have them contribute by fighting it out themselves.  If you see any acts of bullying (either direct or indirect), stop it immediately.  Get physically in between the victim and the bully.  Let them know that this will not be accepted and consistently apply immediate appropriate consequences.  Help the victim “save face” and allow them to find support/intervention by regaining self control and without fear of retaliation from others.  Never require that the victim and the bully meet and “work things out”.  Since bullying is a power imbalance, these conversations can once again traumatize the victim and often do not lead to constructive solutions.  Assist the bully in finding ways to make amends in meaningful ways.  Such as changing their actions for the better.

Whatever you do, don’t think that this issue is an unavoidable right of passage for children.  It is never acceptable to deliberately cause harm to another person, no matter what age they are.  Allowing your child to feel victimized will not make them a tougher person.  It will only cause emotional scarring and baggage that will effect them for the long haul.  And if you feel it’s okay that your child hangs out with peers who have shown acts of bullying, remember that people who are prone to bullying are 4 times more likely to perform criminal acts as they reach adulthood.  Violence promotes violence.  It’s a slippery slope.

Well, that’s the end of my lenghty dissertation on bullying.  Probably not one of my most exciting posts, but hopefully informative and helpful in organizing some thoughts and facts on a very sensitive issue.  I know that we all want our children to be happy and successful.  It’s our job to show them the way.

There are so many resources on bullying, surf the web for credible sources or visit the library to review many great books on the topic.  This is a world wide problem, mainly focused on the school age group but also for adults since it never stops if gone unchecked.