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Dr. Jen Wojciechowski, PhD, a Sharp-affiliated psychologist with Sharp's Adolescent Cognitive Intensive Outpatient Program, answers frequently asked questions about bullying and what you can do if you suspect your child is being bullied or is doing the bullying.
What is bullying?
Bullying is aggressive behavior that is intentional and involves an imbalance of power or strength. Victims have difficulty standing up for themselves and are typically bullied repeatedly over time.
Are there different types of bullies?
Bullies may utilize physical, relational, emotional or cyber means to inflict intentional physical or emotional pain on others. Physical bullying is the most widely recognized form of bullying.
Some examples of physical bullying include:
Verbal bullying is quick, direct and easy. Examples include:
Emotional bullying is sophisticated, calculated and usually done by a group. Emotional bullying hurts victims' feelings and lowers self-esteem. Examples may include:
What about cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is the newest form of bullying and does not happen face-to-face. Cyberbullying occurs through the use of technology such as computers, social networking sites, cell phones and other electronic devices. Cyberbullying is different from other forms of bullying because it can occur 24 hours a days, 7 days a week, 365 days a year;, can be conducted anonymously; and can be shared with a wide audience quickly and easily. Examples include:
How common is cyberbullying?
Sadly, bullying is widespread among children and adolescents and affects nearly half of all middle and high school students. Bullying can occur as early as preschool, with increased presence in elementary school, peaked prevalence in middle school and then decreases in high school years.
What can parents do to prevent cyberbullying and promote safe Internet use?
Parents can prevent cyberbullying by talking to their children about Internet safety and limiting their time on electronic devices. Encourage children to block cyberbullies from accessing their online profiles and to explore additional privacy settings available on social networking sites. Make sure kids know that cyberbullying hurts people’s feelings in the same ways face-to-face bullying does. Remind kids that schools have strict policies against cyberbullies and infractions often lead to school suspensions or criminal charges.
What’s the difference between teasing and bullying?
Teasing is a playful act in which people poke fun at each other with no intention of hurting the other person’s feelings. Sometimes feelings may get hurt unintentionally but children are typically able to recover quickly. On the contrary, bullying is intentional. The actions of bullies are deliberate and aim to cause physical or emotional harm to the victim over a long period of time.
Why do kids bully each other?
There is no one reason that kids bully one another. Individual, family, peer, school and community factors may increase kids’ likelihood to bully. Research suggests that bullies have a need for power. Bullies may view their behavior as a way of becoming popular or looking “tough” in front of their peers. Other kids may bully because they get satisfaction in causing other’s pain. Some children who are victims of trauma or abuse may deal with their own anger and emotions by hurting or humiliating other people. Bullies often obtain psychological or material rewards for their behavior. For example, bullies may acquire other people’s possessions and gain popularity, attention or dominance over others.
What are characteristics of bullies?
Individual characteristics of bullies include:
Family characteristics of bullies include:
Are there common characteristics of children who are bullied?
Any child can be a victim of bullying. Some kids are victims of bullies for no identifiable reason. Other times, children get bullied for being “different” in some specific way. For example, kids may be bullied because of their weight, height, academic abilities or challenges, athletic abilities, physical disabilities, etc. Children who are socially isolated tend to be targets of bullying because they do not have a group of friends to protect them.
What can children do to stop bullying?
Being bullied is a difficult thing for any child to deal with; however, there are things kids can do to help the situation.
What can children do if someone they know is being bullied?
Children should be encouraged to speak up against bullying and to treat others the way they want to be treated. If children are aware of other kids being bullied they can help by talking with and supporting them, sitting with them at lunch, playing with them at recess/free time or by making a trusted adult aware of the situation.
What can parents do about bullying?
Parents should communicate their belief that bullying is wrong, intervene immediately and take action!
How should I handle bullying when my child is the victim?
If your child is being bullied you can support him or her by first providing support, empathy and a listening ear. It is important for parents to communicate that bullying is wrong and that it is not their child’s fault. Recognize your child’s courage for telling you about the bullying. Never blame your child or imply that their behavior warranted the bullying.
Learn as much as you can about the bullying incidents. Do not take action immediately — let your emotions cool down before you try and address the problem. Collaborate with your child to identify strategies for decreasing the bullying and coping with the stress it may cause them. Contact your child’s school and discuss the issue with your child’s teacher or counselor. Provide factual information to the school and stress your intentions to work closely with the school to eliminate the bullying.
Don’t take matters into your own hands or contact the parents of the bully — this often makes things worse. It is best to let the school personnel contact the bully’s family and develop an intervention plan.
What should I do if my child is the bully?
Although it may be difficult for parents to hear that their child is bullying, it is important for them to take the incident seriously and talk to their child. Parents should strive to stay calm and to not become overemotional. Discuss the incident with the child and ask them to explain their actions and role. Parents should communicate to their children that bullying is unacceptable behavior that hurts everyone involved. Identify clear guidelines and expectations for behavior. Spend more time with your child and assist your child with engaging in more pro-social activities such as extracurricular activities, clubs, sports, etc. Parents should work with their child’s school to address the bullying and to develop an intervention plan.
What are schools doing about bullying?
Many schools are implementing zero tolerance policies against bullying. This sends a clear message to students, parents and school personnel that bullying behavior is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. Schools are also adding policies against cyberbullying and promoting Internet safety among the student population. Additionally, there are an increasing number of school-wide bullying prevention programs being implemented.
What do you do when both the child and the child’s parent are bullies?
Don’t take matters into your own hands. It is best to get your child’s school involved. Inform the school about the bullying incidents, and let them contact the bully’s parents and collaborate with them to develop an intervention plan. The school can send a clear message about the severity of the bullying behavior and associated consequences.
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