The Pain of BullyingMario Cruz, M.D.
What to do if Your Child is Being Bullied, is a Bully, and How to Talk About it
Bullying is not just the act of getting lunch money stolen or being ridiculed in front of class. It involves any imbalance of power between kids who use physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or popularity to control, harm, or exclude others. And whether your child is being bullied or is the bully, the effects of such behavior can last a lifetime.
Though the perception of bullying is changing, some still see it incorrectly as a childhood right of passage. But those who are bullied can have problems, some of which may last through adulthood including:
- Higher instances of depression, anxiety, sadness, loneliness, missing, skipping or dropping out of school
- Changes in sleep and eating
- Loss of interest in activities
- Health complaints
- Lower grades, test scores and school participation.
On the other side of the coin, bullies are also more likely to experience problems that can also last into adulthood including:
- Alcohol and drug abuse
- Getting into fights, vandalizing property, and dropping out of school
- Early sexual activity
- Have traffic citations and criminal convictions
- Abuse of romantic partners, spouses or children
About 28 percent of students in grades 6-12 experience bullying, but the percentage is believed to be higher because many incidents go unreported. Some groups, such as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) youth, the disabled and the socially isolated may face increased bullying risks.
Adults are notified in only about one third of all bullying cases; as a parent, you may need to pick up on signs that your child is being bullied. Some signals include:
- Unexplained injuries
- Lost or destroyed clothing, books, electronics or jewelry
- Frequent headaches, stomach aches, faking illness
- Changes in eating
- Difficulty sleeping or frequent nightmares
- Sudden loss of friends
- Avoidance of social situations
- Feelings of helplessness
- Decreased self esteem
- Self-destructive behaviors
Many parents don't realize that their child may be bullying others according to Mario Cruz, M.D., a pediatrician at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children. Dr. Cruz says that if more parents discover their child is a bully, the incidence of bullying could be reduced.
"Bullies often believe that their acts are without consequences," Dr. Cruz says. "Can you blame them? We'd all act differently if there were no consequences. This underscores the importance of reporting bullies to teachers and parents."
If parents of kids who are being bullied notice that something is wrong - especially if they feel their child is in serious distress or danger - they should not get help right away, he says.
A child who is bullying others may:
- Get in physical or verbal fights
- Have friends who bully
- Be increasingly aggressive
- Get sent to principal's office or detention often
- Have unexplained extra money or new belongings
- Blame others for their problems
- Not accept responsibility for their actions
- Be competitive
- Worry about their reputation or popularity.
Kids who understand what bullying is can identify it better. Tips to give your child so they can safely stand up to bullying and get help include:
- Stay close to adults or groups of kids
- Tell a trusted adult if they or others are bullied
- Stand up to bullies by:
- Using humor
- Saying "stop" directly and confidently
- Walking away
- Help others who are bullied by showing kindness or getting help
Finding out what is bothering your child means keeping lines of communication open. Kids look to parents and caregivers for advice and help in tough situations. Talking just 15 minutes a day can reassure your child that it's OK to discuss problems.