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[Parent Tips] Frequently Asked Questions About Bullying Answered

[Parent Tips] Frequently Asked Questions About Bullying Answered

Bullying amongst kids is far from a new issue. However, it has certainly become a more complex one in recent years as kids’ interactions spilled over classroom walls and into social media and other online forums. And, with more and more kids having access to mobile devices, bullying can be more constant than ever before. With the potentially negative effects it can inflict not only on a student’s academic performance but also on their self-esteem and emotional well-being, bullying is an important topic to address.

That said, bullying is also a very complex issue, and this post is far from the end-all, be-all for bullying resources and information. Instead, we hope to answer some common questions so parents can identify bullying behavior, have a starting point to deal with and prevent it, and know where to look for additional information.

What is the definition of bullying?

The Centers for Disease Control and Department of Education have defined bullying as unwanted aggressive behavior; observed or perceived power imbalance; and repetition of behaviors or high likelihood of repetition. This can include name-calling, obscene gesturing, malicious teasing, exclusion, threats, and spreading rumors, as well as physical hitting, kicking, pushing, and even choking.

How common is bullying?

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, more than one out of every five students report being bullied. Furthermore, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ StopBullying.gov initiative reports that 70.6% of young people say they have seen bullying in their schools, and approximately 30% of young people admit to bullying others in surveys. Unfortunately, only about 20 to 30% of students who are bullied notify adults about the bullying.

How can I identify bullying?

Identifying bullying can be tricky, as some types of bullying can be covert, quiet, and secretive. StopBullying.gov suggests starting with these questions to figure out what is happening: 

  • What is the history between the kids involved? Have there been past conflicts?
  • Is there a power imbalance? Remember that a power imbalance is not limited to physical strength. It is sometimes not easily recognized. If the targeted child feels like there is a power imbalance, there probably is.
  • Has this happened before? Is the child worried it will happen again?
  • Remember that it may not matter “who started it.” Some kids who are bullied may be seen as annoying or provoking, but this does not excuse the bullying behavior.

When asking these questions, you will want to get the story from several sides, including adults and kids if possible, and doing your best to keep all parties separate while recounting the facts. Don’t call the act “bullying” while you are trying to understand what’s taken place. It may be difficult to get the whole story, but it’s important to get all the facts before determining if something is bullying or not.

What are some side effects of bullying?

Bullying can have a range of effects on both the kids who experience it and those who engage in it, including physical, mental, and emotional consequences. Kids who are bullied have been found to be at higher risk of developing anxiety and depression disorders, and experience more frequent disruptions in sleep as well as minor health problems like colds, headaches, and stomach aches. On the other hand, kids who bully others are at a greater risk of later substance abuse issues, dropping out of school, and violence towards romantic partners.

The effects of bullying for kids who experience it can also impact academics. Research detailed in this recent CNN report shows that kids who suffered chronic levels of bullying during their school years showed lower academic achievement, a greater dislike of school, and less confidence in their academic abilities. Students who are bullied are also more likely to miss, skip, or drop out of school.

What is cyberbullying and what does it look like?

As defined by Common Sense Media, cyberbullying is bullying that occurs over digital devices. It includes sending, posting, or sharing negative, false, or mean content about someone else. Some examples include sending hurtful texts or instant messages, posting embarrassing photos or video on social media, or spreading mean rumors online or with cell phones.

Some elements of cyberbullying that make it different from physical bullying are that it is:

  • Persistent – Digital devices offer an ability to immediately and continuously communicate 24 hours a day, so it can be difficult for children experiencing cyberbullying to find relief.
  • Permanent – Most information communicated electronically is permanent and public, if not reported and removed. A negative online reputation, including for those who bully, can impact college admissions, employment, and other areas of life.
  • Hard to Notice – Because teachers and parents may not overhear or see cyberbullying taking place, it is harder to recognize.

How can I talk to my child about bullying?

Regular conversations about what appropriate, kind behavior looks like can stop bullying before it ever starts. Describe and model respectful behavior to your child before they start school, and continue to discuss the topic on an ongoing basis. Teach them how teasing and name-calling can be hurtful, and correct any behavior like this as soon as you see it. Equally important, teach your child to be assertive and stand up for themselves in a non-aggressive manner. It’s important that young children know how to say ‘no’ and walk away from dangerous or uncomfortable situations.

Additionally, instilling responsible digital habits is key to helping your child avoid cyberbullying. Make healthy online habits the norm at home, such as having your child use the computer and other digital devices in open areas where you can monitor them (like the living room or kitchen instead of their own room). Have open conversations with your child about what kind of technology that they use, and makes sure they know they can be open with you if something awkward, inappropriate, or uncomfortable happens online. At-home practices like these can help lay the groundwork for effective resolution in case your child does begin to experience online bullying. Watch this video from Common Sense Media with your child for more tips to identify and deal with cyberbullying.

Finally, emphasize to your child that it’s important to not be a bystander if they witness bullying happening. Encourage them to speak with an adult if they see bullying behavior, whether it’s online or in-person. This is a great opportunity to teach young children about empathy, by asking them to consider how they might feel if they were the victim of bullying.

Where can I learn more?

There are a number of outstanding organizations working to prevent and stop bullying. Here are a few of our favorites, all of which offer extensive resources on talking to your child about bullying, identifying bullying behavior, and dealing with bullying when it is taking place:

Bullying prevention is just one aspect of the broader set of interpersonal skills referred to as social and emotional learning (SEL). Want to find out more about this critical topic? Check out these 5 Common Questions About Social and Emotional Learning for parents!