A young girl in middle school, afraid to go to school because she knows, like every other day, she would feel all alone. Alone because those she thought to be her friends teased her and called her fat, ugly and stupid. Alone because no teacher or counselor would protect her from being strangled, punched or pushed around. Alone because she was one of the few students failing most of her classes. And she felt alone because she would walk home from the bus at the end of the day with tears in her eyes because she knew she would have to live it all over again the next day.
As much as I would like to say this is just the beginning to a fictional story, it’s not. This is reality….this was MY reality. The bullying I endured for years is something no child, or adult, should have to be exposed to. Unfortunately, however, thousands of children around the world are being bullied, both in and outside of school; 160,000 stay home each day in fear. Students involved in a bullying incident can be affected in many ways leading to health related problems and declining academic achievement. At this point, some things you may be wondering are, “How can I tell if my child is being bullied?” and “What can I do to help my child.” Before we talk about warning signs and prevention/ response, let’s first take a look at who is involved in a bullying situation, and how they are affected.
Who is Involved?
In any bullying situation, whether it be physical, emotional, social, verbal, sexual or even cyberbullying, there can be three groups involved. There are bullies, victims, and bystanders. Bullies are those who are either aggressively or passively causing harm to another individual. Victims are the individuals being bullied and can either internalize the abuse and be more passive, or externalize it and have an aggressive response to the abuse (sometimes leading them to be a bully themselves). Bystanders are the individuals that witness the incident. They can either be defenders and take the side of the victim, they can be onlookers and not take either side, or they can be follower/supporters and take the side of the bully, sometimes becoming one themselves. Although bystanders are not directly involved, they, like the bully and the victim, are affected as well.
How Does it Affect Their Health?
Studies, such as one done by Marcel F. van der Wal, Cees A. M. de Wit and Remy A. Hirasing in 2003, showed that there is a direct relation between bullying and symptoms of depression and suicidal ideations. This study in particular found that boys and girls that were bullied, both directly and indirectly, were more likely to show signs of depression and suicidal thoughts than those who did not report being bullied. On top of this, Victims also experience symptoms of stress, such as headaches and stomach aches, and anxiety. However, victims are not the only ones who’s health is affected.
Bullies and bystanders are also affected by bullying incidents. According to StopBullying.gov, bullies are more likely to engage in drug and alcohol abuse and early sexual activity. All of which open doors to many other health risks and problems. Sometimes, bullies adopt these symptoms and behaviors because they are externalizing abuse they are getting at school or at home. Like bullies, bystanders are also more likely to engage in substance abuse. However, they are more susceptible to depression, anxiety, fear, and other mental issues like the victim. They may also experience feelings of guilt, which can also have an impact on their health and academics.
How Does it Affect Their Academics?
Much like a child’s health, their academic achievement starts declining after being subjected to a bullying incident as well. Victims tend to have declining grades and test scores. Victims also have more difficulty achieving benchmarks year to year. This could be because of lack of concentration and/or participation due to fear or anxiety. These two factors could also cause them to skip school or drop out altogether. Bystanders may also choose to skip school in order to avoid being a witness to bullying.
What Are the Warning Signs?
Warning signs are very important to pay attention to if your child is part of a bullying situation. Whether they are a victim or a bully, children develop different behaviors that are unusual for them to be expressing. Like I said previously, a victim may be bringing home report cards with lower grades than they usually receive or get more phone calls home to the parents about lack of participation in class. Aside from the showing symptoms of stress, low self-esteem or depression, victims may also have a lack of appetite and sleep. Parents should also be paying attention to other external signs that they are being bullied, such as torn clothing, bruises or other injuries, and missing or damaged possessions.
If your child is displaying more aggressive or angry behaviors, these are signs that they could be a bully themselves. Bullies also tend to demonstrate a need for dominance and express a positive attitude toward violent behaviors. If you get a call home from the school saying that your child started a fight with another student, this could be a sign that your child is a bully. Although there is not much research to show that being a bully can affect academic achievement, the health risks listed above could potentially cause these individuals to have declining grades and lower test scores.
What Can I Do?
There are many things you can do as a parent, or other member of the community, to prevent and intervene in a bullying situation. First and foremost, it is crucial to make your child aware that you support them and take an interest in their academics and well being. In another study conducted by Catherine Rothon, Jenny Head, Emily Klineberg and Stephen Stansfield in 2011 showed that higher levels of family social support had a buffering effect on the negative impacts of bullying on children. However, family support alone is not enough. Children also require strong social support from their peers, teachers and other members of the community. Anti-Bullying Programs in schools also play a major role in preventing and responding to bullying.
If you suspect that your child is being bullied, or being a bully, it is also beneficial to work closely with their teachers to ensure that there is plenty of supervision and that each incident and report is being taken seriously. Bullying tends to occur more often when and where there is less adult supervision such as the playground, hallways, lunchroom and especially online. With the help of educators teaching children about respecting each other, you can also teach them how to react to a bullying incident by immediately seeking help from an adult.
When students feel safe in their environment, they are more engaged in their education and learning experiences. By taking action to prevent bullying and having a proper response to an incident, every member of the community can have a positive impact. Some important steps to remember, as an adult, when faced with a bullying situation are to first stop the bullying on the spot. When a situation is defused immediately, it is less likely to happen again. Model calm and respectful behavior and make sure that everyone involved is separated and safe before proceeding
Second, find out exactly what happened (from everyone involved including victims, bullies and bystanders) so that you are better prepared to assess if it is a bullying situation and proceed. Next, as stated earlier, it is of utmost importance that all children involved in a bullying situation feel supported. Even though you may have a negative view of the bully, they may be going through a lot in their lives that could be contributing to this behavior, so placing blame is not the answer. Also, sometimes victims may think that the bullying is their fault. They need to be reassured that they did nothing to deserve being treated in that way. Support also needs to be persistent since bullying situations are repeated acts. As a parent, this is where it is very beneficial for you to work closely with teachers and counselors.
Finally, speak up! Be more than just a bystander. If your child sees a bullying incident, it is important for them to know how to intervene in a way that is not putting them in harm’s way. Bystanders can intervene by immediately seeking help from an adult, not giving the bully a supportive audience, and helping the victim to get away. To do this safely, children can create a distraction by telling the victim that a teacher needs to see them or that their game starts in a few minutes, only if they feel safe to do so.
One out of every three students reports being the victim of bullying, with 79% of them occurring in school. If we can all work together to educate students and the community about bullying and it’s effects on children, we can make a drastic change in the lives of thousands. No child needs to feel alone.
For more information and useful tips and tools, please visit StopBullying.gov and take a stand!