Bullying has changed over the years. If you're reading this blog, you're most likely in your 20s, 30s, or maybe older. In that time, bullying meant maybe getting pushed around or rumors being spread.
Note: all sources will be listed at the end of this post.
These days, kids have gone a lot further. They're basically relentless once they start. There are different ways that bullying occurs.
Physical: this is an obvious one. Kids come home with scratches, bruises, etc. Their clothes may be torn, their belongings may be missing or be destroyed.
Emotional: to me, this is past teasing like some kids do. This is kids telling others they are better off dead (a dear friend of mine was bullied for years in this way), taunted about their weight, looks, etc. As an example, a child I once worked with on a forensic unit was relentlessly bullied for being biracial. I understood this more than anyone else around her on the unit because I had the same happen to me. We had a very long and hopefully for her, helpful talk.
Cyberbullying: this is the newer version of bullying and to me, the most destructive. Anyone reading this has somehow heard heartbreaking stories of young kids, as young as 8 or 9, ending their lives because of cyberbullying.
My kids aren't on social media yet, and this is partially why. Those messages can and will break a kid, even if they are otherwise “okay". They begin to tear at the kid’s self-esteem over time and that is when tragedies occur. Even when parents do become aware and try to stop the damage, sometimes it's too late. There are campaigns to stop cyberbullying and are available online.
Why do kids become bullies? Great question. I've got a research based answer and an answer formed from working with kids with emotional and behavioral disorders. I also have a kid who really doesn't get the idea of empathy, even after a ton of therapy. (Julian is nowhere near a bully but the empathy factor… still in progress.)
Researched answer- There are quite a few reasons but each kid is different. (Please do not take this as my defending bullies because that is not my thing at all. I don't condone it and I am simply explaining commonly found factors.)
Problems at home. Some kids are facing major issues like abuse of some sort, parental substance and/or alcohol abuse, financial issues, sibling problems, etc.
Self esteem issues. Some kids become bullies to make themselves feel better because they don't feel good about themselves.
They learn the behavior at home.
It can be their defense so that they aren't bullied themselves.
To fit in with others. Kind of the “Mean Girl" mentality
My answer? It's a combination of these answers, plus nobody stopping them. If a kid isn't stopped early on or at all, things can and will get out of hand. I'm trying to raise three non-bullies. Thankfully, this has worked out so far. I also think bullying can be a cry for attention in a way because it can be a sign that a kid is getting out of control.
I work really hard with Julian on the empathy issue. Thanks, autism. As I told his psych nurse practitioner, the idea just goes “over his head". I tell him what he did wrong, why, and how it affected the other person involved. Sometimes it clicks but most of the time, it doesn't. I worry that this will cause issues with relationships later in life, but not so much that he will become a bully. This leads me to a question that many don't think of:
What if my kid is the bully?
Many parents don't want to think about this. I understand this. I wouldn't either. There comes a point, however, where you have to.
Maybe that's when your child has been suspended for fighting for the third or fourth time, or they aren't hanging out with the friends they used to because they pulled away. It could also be after you're called into the school office because your daughter has been repeatedly texting another girl and it turned into cyberbullying.
Parents can't be everywhere all the time, as much as we wish we could be.
We can make changes when we need to. Sometimes we have to look inside ourselves to help our kids.
Have there been major changes in the home that your child feels powerless over? This may be their way of taking power back.
Does your child feel invisible?
Is your child entitled? If they run over everyone at home, they may feel they can run over their classmates.
Is there someone in the home that could be modeling this behavior?
After looking at these factors, please take into consideration any suggestions from the school. They are professionals and know what may be able to help your child.
What if my child is being bullied?
As parents, we want to protect our kids. At some point, we can't, mainly at school. They have to learn the tools to stay safe while we can't be there.
The biggest tip is to be strong and aggressive. Many bullies pick certain kids that they know will pretty much fold under their power. If this doesn't happen, they lose interest. Teach your child to speak up, speak loud and be strong when they do speak. Over time, the confidence will build.
Kids can learn phrases to let the bully know that they aren't affected by what they are saying to/about them. Those phrases can include:
“that's not cool"
“cut it out"
If the bullying can't be addressed alone or just by talking, your child will need to report the issues. Let them know you will help them if they need it. At its worst, adults always need to intervene in bullying.
How can my child help?
It is possible for kids to help their friends if they know they're in trouble. Cameron helped break up a fight earlier in the school year because he knew his friend was being bullied and didn't want him to get hurt. I was happy he wanted to help his friend but worried that he would have gotten hurt or that the bully would target him, neither of which happened.
Kids can learn to include others at lunch, recess and other times that bullies lurk. Bullies like to pick at the kids that are alone.
Kids can also stand up for their friends, hopefully not violently. I told Cameron in the future to grab a teacher and not risk getting hurt. He has a heart condition and I worry that a fight may send him to the hospital. If your child has a friend that they know is being bullied, they can stick by that friend when possible and let them know that they are there if they want to talk. That can mean a lot. Being bullied is hard on the mind.
Teach your kids to remember that everyone is different. So many kids are bullied for things they cannot change.
I don't have all the answers to stop bullying, but I wish I did. These are ideas and steps we can take as parents to help our kids pause a terrible occurrence in the world around us.
Stand up and Stop Bullying
Causes of Bullying