— Nearly half of all children in school are bullied at some point, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
Yet children are not always the recipient of physical violence. The definition of bullying is aggressive, unwanted behavior that happens more than once, or could potentially happen more than once, and imposes a sense of real or perceived imbalance of power on the victim.
The three most common forms of bullying are:
- Racial slurs
- Malicious rumors
- Destroying property
- Harassing emails
- Abusive texts
- Intimidating instant messages
- Persecuting Facebook posts
- Other social media interactions
Often, children who are bullied are afraid or embarrassed to approach adults with their concerns. Perhaps they are concerned there will be retaliation, or that no one will believe them. Some common warning signs that a child may be the recipient of bullying are:
- Reluctance to go to school or ride the bus
- Declining academic performance
- Sleep difficulties
- Damaged clothing or missing personal items
- Unexplained injuries
The most important thing is to take your child’s situation seriously. Parents and other adults should support their children and have an open line of communication with them.
Encourage them to share their concerns and remain calm, remind them that they are not to blame, and reassure them that you want to help.
Bullying is not a rite of passage and children should not be left to handle it on their own. They need your support and guidance on how to respond to bullying:
- Don’t fight back
- Maintain composure
- Say “Stop” confidently
- Walk away
- Use humorous or neutral responses
- Ask teacher or school officials for help
As a parent, it is important to monitor your child’s cell phone and online activities, especially with social media platforms like Facebook.
If your child is being cyberbullied, it’s important that you or your child NOT respond to messages or emails from the bully. Keep any evidence that bullying is occurring. Block the person from your child’s phone or social media network.
Cyberbullying should be reported to law enforcement if it involves threats of violence, sexually explicit photos or messages, taking a photo of someone where they would expect privacy, or stalking/hate crimes.
Ignoring the fact that your child is being bullied can have a devastating immediate effect on your child’s life, causing poor academic performance, truancy and even injury. It can also lead to severe long-term effects such as depression and anxiety, and can be a contributing factor for increased risk of suicide.
It is important to know when to seek professional help if your child’s fears are overwhelming. Early intervention can help prevent lasting problems. It is also essential to be a role model for your kids. Seeing how adults in their lives handle frustration and conflict in healthy ways is beneficial to children. Modeling kindness and respect toward others can go a long way in living a healthy, happy life.
Maureen Tanis is a Mayo Clinic Health System licensed independent clinical social worker. She will be giving a free public presentation on bullying in the lower level conference center of Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato on Aug. 28 at 7 p.m.
For more information, please go to www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org.
Health & Fitness coverage is supported by Mayo Clinic Health System, preserving the health and well-being of southern Minnesota communities.