Do you suspect your child might be the victim of bullies? Maybe you think your child is responsible for bullying?
As a child, I stood out. I was much taller than many of my peers, which left me as an open target for bullies.
Unfortunately, it ran in the family, and my first born was also tall from an early age, susceptible to bullying until high school when everyone started catching up.
As parents, we need to stay on top of this subject so we can help our children learn to do the right thing and how to deal with their emotions. Bullying is prevalent in the U.S., whether as a victim or a perpetrator. Let’s look at what constitutes bullying, who is at risk, the effect it has, and ways to prevent bullying.
How Prevalent Is Bullying?
Bullying can happen in different places, it could be at school, whether in class, in the hallways, or at the playground. Maybe your child attends an after-school club, plays a sport, or goes to the mall. Bullies generally operate in areas where youths congregate and there is minimal adult supervision.
With technology, even the home is no longer a safe haven. Your child could be the victim of cyber-bullying via online devices or cell phones.
In the U.S., between 20 and 28 percent of children in grades 6-12 will experience bullying. Less than half the children in America, about 40 percent, that are bullied will report it to an adult (1).
In surveys, approximately 30 percent of children admit to having bullied others. These percentages increase when it comes to bullies being observed in the act. Just over 70 percent of children and school staff have witnessed instances of bullying.
Verbal and social bullying are the most common, followed by physical bullying and, less frequently, cyber-bullying, with the exception of “LGBTQ” youths. In this group, 55 percent are subject to cyber-bullying.
For those bullied in middle school, the percentages for different types of bullying are:
- 44.2 percent experience name-calling.
- 43.3 percent are teased.
- 36.3 percent are subject to the spreading of lies or rumors.
- 32.4 percent experience shoving or pushing.
- 29.2 percent are slapped, hit, or kicked.
- 28.5 percent are left out of things.
- 27.4 percent are threatened.
- 27.3 percent have their belongings stolen.
- 23.7 percent are subject to sexual gestures or comments.
- 9.9 percent are subject to bullying by email or blogs.
Types of Bullying
What bullying is and isn’t may not always be apparent to everyone. To help clear up the confusion, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), along with the Department of Education, released a uniform definition of bullying in 2014. It states:
“Bullying is any unwanted aggressive behavior(s) by another youth or group of youths who are not siblings or current dating partners that involves an observed or perceived power imbalance and is repeated multiple times or is likely to be repeated. Bullying may inflict harm or distress on the targeted youth, including physical, psychological, social or educational harm” (source).
A youth is qualified as someone between the ages of five and 18 years old.
Bullying is not two youths having a bit of banter in a playful way, it is intentional behavior which causes harm. This might be actual physical aggression or it could be verbal, and include the threat of such behavior.
This ongoing behavior can be harmful in many ways. A child might have actual cuts or bruises from physical bullying. They could be depressed and anxious when the bullying is verbal. They may feel they are limited socially if their reputation becomes damaged.
Bullying can affect a child’s education when the victim doesn’t want to go to school. When they do, they might find it difficult to concentrate on lessons and their academic performance may suffer.
Bullying can take on different forms. There are two different modes, direct and indirect, and five different types, including verbal, physical, relational, damage to property, and electronic (cyber-bullying). Let’s take a look at each of the modes and types.
Modes of Bullying
This mode of bullying involves behavior which is aggressive and happens in the presence of the person being bullied.
It could be a face-to-face interaction, where someone is shouting or sneering at their victim. They could be calling them names or insulting their friends and family.
It also includes forms of physical violence directed at the person being bullied. It could be passing insulting notes to the victim, or writing about them on a whiteboard, in their presence.
This describes bullying that happens when the person being bullied is not actually present.
This could take the form of the bully spreading a false rumor which may be harmful to their intended victim. For example, they may be saying that the child smells, or that an older child is gay or lesbian.
This type of bullying also covers electronic or cyber-bullying. Rumors could be spread on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or in an email.
Different Types of Bullying
This is where physical force is used by a bully against their victim. The aggression of the bully is intimidating and can take different forms.
Things included are hitting, tripping, kicking, pushing, blocking, and touching someone in inappropriate or unwanted ways.
It may be a girl repeatedly having her hair pulled by someone sitting behind her in class. It could be a boy getting his pants pulled down, or being given a wedgie in the playground.
This type of bullying involves written or verbal communication against the bully’s target. The words can be cruel or threatening and include remarks which are disrespectful in regard to a person’s attributes. This could be their appearance, ethnicity, disability, or more.
Taunting, name-calling, offensive or threatening hand gestures or notes, inappropriate sexual comments, and verbal threats are classified as verbal bullying.
One child may tell another they are fat, or their clothes are uncool, or that their parents don’t love them. Or they could be passing notes, threatening to beat them up, or telling them they are ugly.
This is designed to hurt the reputation and the relationships of a bully’s target. Directly, they might make efforts to prevent someone from interacting with others, or by ignoring them. Indirectly, they may spread rumors, write nasty things about them in public, or upload embarrassing pictures of their victim online.
It includes such things as purposely talking about an upcoming party in front of a child that has not been invited. Or it could be making sure there is no room at a lunch table for a particular child, or excluding them from games in the playground.
Damage to Property
This is where a bully either damages, steals, or alters their target’s property to hurt them. It could be taking something and refusing to return it, or destroying it in their presence.
It’s the bully who rips up a child’s schoolbook or takes their favorite pen and won’t give it back. Maybe they remove their lunchbox from their locker and hide it, or throw it in the trash can.
This involves bullying which happens using technology, such as cell phones, email, instant messaging, chat rooms, and online posts. It could take the form of verbal aggression, sending harassing or threatening electronic communications. It could also be spreading rumors over electronic devices.
Electronic attacks might also be carried out to change, damage, or distribute information which is electronically stored.
The bully could take another’s cell phone, accessing their information, and sharing it without permission. It could be opening a chat room which the victim is excluded from and using it to degrade them. Maybe they post on social networks like Twitter or Facebook with shaming comments, embarrassing posts, or photographs (2).
Who Is at Risk?
Children can play many roles when bullying is involved. Sometimes a child might be bullied and also bully others in return. Maybe they witness the bullying from the outside and don’t do anything to stop it.
Some children are more prone to being bullied while others are more likely to be the bullies. That being said, there is not a single factor which determines the likelihood of a child being the bully or the victim.
Children at Risk of Being Bullied
Some children or teens might be more at risk than others. These include those who are included in the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, or questioning) group. Children with disabilities, or who are isolated socially, could also be more at risk.
Other children at risk include:
- Any child who is seen by others as different: They might wear glasses or not be seen as cool because they can’t afford the latest clothes or gadgets. It may also include children who are new to the school or are different, due to their religion or ethnic background.
- Children who are quiet and lack social skills might be perceived as weak and unable to speak up for themselves: This could be a child who is small in stature or one who is overweight. For whatever reason, a child who lacks confidence may be targeted.
- Children who are anxious, have low self-esteem, or are depressed can be a target for bullies: They might be unable to stand up for themselves.
- The less popular kids who don’t have a lot of friends can also be singled out by a bully: They could often be alone and not have anyone to defend them.
- Some children might be seen by others as annoying or antagonizing: They may provoke others when seeking attention. These children often don’t get along well with others and it can lead to them being singled out for bullying.
- Those who do well in school and are the target of jealousy from students who don’t do as well: This may result in name-calling or even physical violence toward the student who excels.
Children at Risk of Becoming Bullies
Just like the bullied child can have certain traits, so can those who are bullying. Children at risk of becoming bullies generally fall into one of two categories.
- Those who are well connected to other children might have power, socially. They can be overly concerned about being popular and like to dominate others.
- Conversely, children who don’t get on well with others, or those who are anxious, depressed, or lack self-esteem, can also be bullies. There are also children who will lack empathy and don’t see how their actions affect the feelings of others.
Other factors that come into play, leaving children at risk of becoming bullies, include:
- Behavioral traits: Aggressive children or those who don’t have a lot of patience and become easily frustrated.
- Problems at home: Some parents might be too permissive and not set appropriate boundaries for children to follow, or fail to give their child supervision. Others might subject a child to abusive behavior. In both instances, the lack of healthy parental bonds can lead to bullying.
- Lack of empathy: Children may make negative comments about other children, whether it’s in relation to their intelligence, abilities, culture, race, or lifestyle. This prejudicial style of bullying could be due to learned behavior or a lack of understanding.
- Difficulty following rules: Some children struggle to follow rules. They don’t recognize boundaries and can become bullies.
- Seeing violence as positive: Viewing violence in a positive way is never a good thing. Some children can have this trait, leading them into a bullying situation.
- Peer pressure: This can be a big influence. Those whose friends are bullies will often become bullies themselves.
Being a bully doesn’t necessarily mean you are bigger or stronger than those you pick on. It’s the power imbalance that factors in here, and this could also come from being popular or being more intelligent (3).
How Can Bullying Be Prevented?
There are steps you can take to try to prevent bullying from happening. These can differ, depending on the age of the children.
Up to one in five high school students were targets of bullying in 2012. Nevertheless, bear in mind, these behaviors can begin early in a child’s life. The sooner children are taught about bullying and the effect it can have, the better (4).
All the prevention techniques and tips we list apply to children as young as kindergarten age. However, the first five are particularly useful for older children.
One of the best ways to prevent bullying is to start talking about it from early childhood, right through high school.
Here are some of the strategies you can employ to help prevent bullying.
1. Keep Communication Lines Open
Talking to your child openly about their friends from an early age helps you establish good communication with them. It’s reassuring for them to know you’re interested in what they do and that you have their back at all times.
Encourage them to talk openly about their day. Ask them open-ended questions which will encourage a response. The sort of things you can ask include:
- What happened today that was good?
- Did anything bad happen?
- What was lunchtime like? Who did you sit with and what did you talk about?
- What was your ride like on the school bus?
- What do you enjoy about school?
- What don’t you like about school?
Why not invite some of their friends around so you can get to know them better? This will give you some insight into your child’s interactions with their peers.
Talking to your children about bullying and how it might be impacting them can help you understand what is going on. It’s important to encourage your children to answer you honestly and let them know you’re there to help if issues arise.
Talking about bullying can be hard for a child. These are some of the questions you can ask to find out what they understand about bullying and dealing with it.
- What does “being a bully” mean to you?
- Why do you think children bully others?
- Does bullying scare you and make you afraid to go to school?
- What do you think I can do as your parent to help stop bullying?
- How do you feel when you see other children being bullied?
- Would you try to help someone who is being bullied?
2. Educate Your Child About Bullying
Children begin to learn how to behave at an early age. They watch what we do as adults, and follow our example.
With this in mind, always treat others with respect. Say “please” and “thank you,” and be respectful, kind, and friendly toward others. Children will observe your behavior and pick up these good habits.
If you have preschoolers and younger children, explain that they need to share and play nicely. They can’t just take a toy or book from another child, just because they want it. They need to learn the impact this has and how it makes others feel.
Children also need to be aware that using technology to spread rumors or be unpleasant to other children is also bullying, as is excluding children from activities and ostracizing them.
Explain to your child that respecting themselves and others can help them form healthy friendships. They should listen to their friends and not judge them or talk about them behind their backs. They need to support their friends, trust them, and be honest with them (5).
3. Recognizing Signs of Bullying
Signs Your Child Is a Victim of Bullying
Not all children will display signs they are being bullied, but here are some things you can look out for:
- Injuries which can’t be explained.
- Destroyed or lost personal belongings.
- Faking illness or regular stomach aches or headaches.
- Eating habits change, maybe meals are skipped or a child binge eats.
- Nightmares or trouble sleeping.
- Not wanting to attend school, dropping grades, or a reduction in enthusiasm for school work.
- Avoiding social situations or a sudden lack of friends.
- A decrease in self-esteem or feeling helpless.
- Behaviors like self-harming, running away from home, or talking about suicide.
The effects of bullying can be serious and place a child in distress or danger, so get help as soon as possible if you’re worried.
Signs Your Child Might Be Bullying
Bullies can give away telltale signs of their behavior, these include:
- Getting into verbal or physical fights.
- Associating with children who are bullies.
- Increased aggressive behavior.
- Frequent detention or visits to the principal.
- Have new belongings or extra money, with no explanation where they came from.
- Blaming other children for their problems.
- Worrying about how popular they are, or how they appear to other people.
- Not taking responsibility for their actions.
Why Don’t Children Report Bullying?
We mentioned earlier that only about 40 percent of children in the U.S. will report bullying to an adult. Some of the reasons they don’t say anything are that they:
- Feel helpless.
- Think they can handle it on their own.
- Don’t want to be seen as tattletales.
- Fear there might be a backlash from the bully.
- Feel humiliated and don’t want adults knowing what’s being said about them.
- Think adults might judge them, or punish them for not sticking up for themselves.
- Already feel socially isolated and think nobody understands or cares.
- Fear rejection from their peers who might be showing them some support or giving them some protection (6).
4. Teach Your Child Not to Bully
We have mentioned how children will follow role models. Make sure your behavior sets a good example.
Teach them not to spread rumors, or single children out because they are different. Encourage empathy with others, and discourage adding to bullying in any way. Tell your child they don’t have to condone a bully’s behavior just to fit in.
Children also need to know that being a bully has consequences at home, school, and in the community. They can lose privileges and even face criminal charges (7).
5. Give Your Child the Proper Tools
Equipping your child to deal with bullies helps them shift the power balance. After all, it’s the feeling of power that a bully gets from their behavior which gives them the upper hand. Some things you can tell your child to do to ease bullying include:
- Walking away: When a bully approaches, just walk away. Don’t react or respond, that’s what they are looking for.
- Tell them to stop: Bullies pick on people they think are weak. Be confident and tell them — in a loud voice — to leave you alone, then walk away. You might be scared, but don’t let them know that.
- Disarm them with words: Responding with phrases like “Whatever,” “Is that the best you can do?”, or “How long did it take you to think of that one?” can disarm a bully. Deliver your comeback and then walk away.
- Use humor to diffuse a situation: If a bully tells you your clothes are old-fashioned or your face is ugly, look at them and laugh. You can agree with them, carry on laughing, and walk off. You could even just laugh while looking directly at them, and then leave, saying nothing.
- Have a buddy: Bullies will often pick on someone when they’re on their own. Have some friends around you and if the bully still feels brave enough to take you all on, walk away as a group.
- Avoid situations: Bullies can be scary. If you feel intimidated, try to avoid places where you know they will be. That doesn’t make you a coward — it makes you smart!
- Ask for help: Asking for help to deal with a bully is not telling tales. Even though it’s scary, sharing your experience will make you feel better. Speak to your parents, a teacher, or another adult you trust, especially if the bullying is physical (8).
6. Boost Your Child's Confidence
A child who is encouraged and nurtured is likely to have more self-esteem and confidence. This can reduce the likelihood of them being bullied.
Children who take part in activities they love can also have more confidence. This could be playing an instrument, cooking, playing ball, or dancing.
Their success in their chosen hobby will give them a sense of achievement. The expertise they gain will make them feel proud of themselves, and help them connect with other children (9).
Other school activities can also help a child feel involved and build friendships. Joining a school club that interests them, volunteering, taking part in a school play, or playing sports are just a few ideas. Having friends with the same interests can help keep the bullies at bay.
7. Get Yourself Involved
You can stay updated with what’s going on at your child’s school by getting yourself involved. Go to school events and even volunteer to help.
There are simple ways that parents and caregivers can keep up to date with kids’ lives. Get to know the parents of your child’s friends, and make an effort to meet teachers and counselors.
When class newsletters or school flyers come home, make sure you read them. Talk about them with your children so they know you’re interested (source).
It helps for you to know the school’s policies on bullying.
8. Reporting Bullying
Knowing how bullying is handled at your child’s school will enable you to know who to contact in the event of an incident. It will also set clear expectations of how the school might handle the situation.
Unfortunately, schools can’t prevent bullying from happening all the time, and parents should not expect this.
What schools can do, however, is take a proactive approach to bullying. You would be right to expect a school to deal with it quickly, efficiently, and firmly when it occurs.
School administration should have guidelines and policies in place. These should include investigating a parent’s concerns and letting them know what they intend to do to remedy the situation.
They shouldn’t hold a meeting with the bully and the child who has been bullied together. This could be both intimidating and embarrassing for the victim.
A meeting should be held with the bullied child to reassure them of the actions the school will take to stop the ordeal. A plan should be put in place which safeguards the child, and where the staff members keep their eyes open for further bullying.
The child or children who are carrying out the bullying should also have a meeting with a senior school staff member. It should be made clear to them that bullying is not acceptable behavior.
They also need to know there will be consequences if it continues — their parents will be notified and they will have privileges withdrawn.
Care should be taken, by both parents and the school, to make sure the bullied child does not feel at fault. They should not be made to think they were responsible.
There are occasions when the actions of a bullied child are brought into question. Maybe they lack social skills and are perceived as annoying, which might explain why they were bullied. This does not condone or justify bullying, and the matter should be raised with a school counselor.
The school should be given a reasonable amount of time to deal with the issues raised. They need to hear both sides of a story to ascertain the truth. This can take up to a week.
Should the bullying continue, then request a meeting with, or write to, the school principal. If this fails, or if the management is unwilling or unable to stop the bullying, you should write to the school superintendent.
What If It Continues
Whatever you do, don’t be afraid to be persistent. Your child’s safety is the most important thing, and it’s imperative that parents raise bullying concerns so they can be addressed (10).
9. Technology Boundaries Should Be Set
Cyber-bullying is a concern, with most children having access to cell phones, computers, and tablets nowadays. The prevalence rates of this type of bullying fall between one and 41 percent for perpetration, and three to 72 percent for victimization. There are also about two to 16 percent of children who both perpetrate and are victims (11).
Speak to your child about cyber-bullying and tell them not to forward or respond to any threatening emails or messages.
Make sure your child’s computer has the proper age-appropriate filter. Add them as friends on Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, or Facebook, so you can see what is happening.
If possible, ensure the only computer they have access to is the family device, which is set up in a visible place in your home. This will be easier to monitor.
When you allow your child to have a cell phone, let them know you will check their texts. You can also decide whether or not you get a phone with a camera. Keeping your child’s phone in a place away from their rooms by a certain time at night can help eliminate inappropriate messaging or bullying.
If cyber-bullying takes place, report it to the school and make sure it’s followed up and dealt with. Remember to record instances of abusive texts, emails, or posts, in case you need the details at a later time.
Threatening messages or those that are sexually inappropriate should be reported to the police.
10. Join With Others To Stop Bullying
Bullying can happen in many places outside a school setting, such as in the street, at the mall, or in a youth club. Community support is also needed to help prevent bullying.
Anyone working with children in the community can convey anti-bullying messages. The more children who hear these messages, the better.
Local associations that work with children and parents can help. Other people who could be involved include law enforcement officers, neighborhood associations, mental health specialists, local businesses, and church organizations. Any of these people might witness bullying taking place, and together you can work out targeted solutions.
You could encourage teenagers to help younger children to employ anti-bullying behaviors.
Once you identify areas where community groups can help, you need to work out what your strengths are and where they can best be applied. You could use a local opinion survey to find out where bullying is happening, and how it’s being viewed and dealt with.
Once the community has an understanding of the problem, then employ a shared vision for how best to tackle it. Encourage those that have the means like local radio, TV, websites, and newspapers to promote the anti-bullying message.
Over time, you can track progress to see if your plans are working; if not, modify them to make them more effective.
The Effects of Bullying
In both the short and long term, the effects of bullying can be far-reaching. It can have negative outcomes for those bullied, the bullies themselves, and those who witness this unacceptable behavior.
Effects on Children Who Are Bullied
Negative physical and mental health issues can impact a bullied child. Some of the mental and health issues could carry on after school, into adulthood. These include:
- Anxiety and depression.
- Feelings of loneliness and sadness.
- Low self-esteem.
- Alterations to eating and sleeping patterns.
- Loss of enthusiasm and interest in activities they used to enjoy.
- Health issues, like headaches and upset stomachs.
- Lowering of academic achievements.
- Less participation in group activities.
- Likely to drop out of school or university.
A small percentage of bullied children retaliate with extremely violent behavior. In 15 cases of school shootings in the 1990s, 12 of the perpetrators had a history of being victims of bullying.
Most children who are bullied don’t become suicidal or have suicidal thoughts. If they do, this is likely exacerbated by other factors. These include depression, issues at home, and a lack of support from peers, school, or parents (12).
Effects on Children Who Bully Others
Children who are bullies might be engaged in violence or other dangerous types of behavior in adulthood. These include:
- Drug and alcohol abuse.
- Fighting, vandalizing property, and dropping out of school or college.
- Becoming sexually active at an early age.
- Be convicted of criminal or traffic offenses.
- Having abusive relationships with partners or spouses.
Effects on Children Who Witness Bullying
Bystanders who witness bullying can also have long term issues. These include:
- An increased chance of alcohol, drug, or tobacco use.
- More likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, or other mental health disorders.
How You Can Handle Bullying
Your child’s safety is paramount and you must intervene when bullying affects this, or when their ability to function properly at school is impaired.
How you intervene is important. You might need to explain to your child that reporting bullying is not tattling or ratting on others. Bullying needs to be reported to keep someone safe, and it takes courage to do it.
Let’s look at some of the things you can do, whether your child is a victim of bullying, or if they’re the bully.
When Your Child Is Being Bullied
The chances are, by the time you hear about your child being bullied, they will have already tried to deal with it themselves. Try to shore up their confidence and look at ways to deal with the problem. Listen calmly and let them know they have your full support.
Encourage them to report the incident as soon as possible. If your child is in primary or elementary school, you should contact the school to report it. Work together with an older child, and agree on how they want you to proceed.
Once reported, the school administration can work with you to establish:
- Who will investigate your issue.
- When they expect to get back to you.
- What information you can expect from them.
- How the school will endeavor to keep your child safe while the complaint is investigated, such as supervising the alleged bully.
- How the school will protect the identity of your child, to prevent repercussions and respect their privacy.
- If there are services available to support your child’s emotional and psychological needs.
You are entitled to ask:
- For the situation to be investigated immediately.
- If there will be a commitment to ensuring no retribution, or dealing with it promptly if there is.
- What’s the action plan to prevent your child or others from being bullied.
- For counseling for your child if required.
- If necessary, for a referral to, or information about, external services, such as law enforcement or mental health professionals.
- For a transfer to another school if the fear of bullying is so bad that it’s preventing your child from attending school.
Know Your Rights
The school’s main responsibility is to keep your child safe while in their care. Outside agencies may be involved if the case is severe, or depending on their protocols.
If you think your child is in danger, then report the matter to the police. To this end, it’s a good idea to keep written records of what has happened and what you have tried to do to resolve the issue.
When Your Child Is the Bully
Receiving that call from school, informing you that your child has been accused of bullying, can be a tough one. You might experience disbelief and want to defend them. Once the reality sinks in, you’ll want to know what to do, and what the next steps are.
Once you have gathered yourself together, find out what happened. Let the school know you want to work with them to resolve the issue.
You need to make sure your child is treated in a fair manner, where school discipline is concerned. Don’t be quick to judge, but focus on the reasons for your child’s behavior and try to understand them, before deciding on the consequences.
Children can change their ways and stop bullying. To help them, you can:
- Talk to your child in a firm but calm manner to establish what happened and what made them behave the way they did. Listen to your child and try not to assign blame — let them know it’s okay to make mistakes. Discuss how to prevent it from happening again.
- Ask your child questions to help them understand that their behavior was disrespectful and hurtful. Tell them to put the boot on the other foot, and ask how they would feel if it happened to them. Find out if there are any underlying reasons for their behavior.
- Help your child understand that for every action there is a reaction, and bullying has consequences. Define the consequences, depending on the circumstances, such as restricting time on computers or confiscating their cell phone. Try to teach positive behavior by asking your child to write an apology letter.
- Be proactive when dealing with the school. Find out what you can do to help, and work with them for a favorable outcome. Ascertain whether counseling or other resources might help your child, and follow up on actions.
- Help your child build emotional and social skills from a young age. After-school activities can help your child develop skills in a new setting, and build positive relationships. Teach your child to employ self-restraint and be empathetic (13).
It’s tough, finding out your child is being bullied or is accused of being a bully. You will undoubtedly have many mixed emotions, and might even blame yourself in some way.
The good news is there are things you can do to help prevent it from happening. Schools are also more aware and supportive than ever when it comes to dealing with instances of bullying.
Teaching your child to respect themselves and others from an early age can prevent bullying as they get older. Show them what constitutes good behavior.
As a parent, be supportive and empathetic to your child. Remember, set a good example for them to follow. Little eyes and ears don’t miss much.
We hope you found our insights on bullying prevention useful. If you have experienced this and have any other tips, please leave us a comment. And please remember to share.