If you’re reading this then maybe my bullying tactic worked…. In this blog I want to address the importance of discussing bullying with your child’s health practitioner. If you are someone who believes that bullying is just something that most children go through and that there are no long-term consequences as they reach adulthood, then I’m really glad you’re reading this.
IT’S WHAT WE DON’T SEE
When some think about bullying they think of a scenario like little Alicia is getting picked on by a mal-mannered Jonathan in class; he is making up songs with her name in place of a foul word. Some may think Alicia should tell her teacher, she should stand up to him, she should tell her parents, Jonathan is a bad kid, Jonathan has a crush, or Jonathan needs to be punished or spanked. Not many people would zoom out and take a look at the big picture or give a second thought to the idea that this is not a isolated event that could potentially have long lasting affects; not only for Alicia and Jonathan but also the people around them. The reality is that if a bully is displaying certain mildly aggressive behaviors in front of teachers or peers there is a good chance things are worse in situations which involve less structure such as recess, PE, or lunch.
While we do not know for sure what causes someone to be a bully or be a victim, we have a working definition of it which revolves around a power imbalance. The main forms of bullying are: Verbal, Physical, Relational Aggression, Cyber, Sexual, and Prejudicial. In a bullying situation one person wants to feel more powerful than the other. In children we see that a bully can create their own hierarchy within cliques -yes even children as young as 7 years old. One person wants to be perceived as having more money, better clothes, smarter, more friends, or just being better than the other.
Working within the public school system parents of bully victims would often ask me “what makes a child act this way?” My answer is usually “I don’t know but lets do everything we can to raise awareness, encourage speaking out, and educating the students and teachers on how to better handle this.”
Some researchers say that there is an inability to recognize signs that another person is upset. In other words, the children were not taught early on to empathize and recognize when others are in distress, which means many of their actions are self-centered. In a similar way a child who is bullied may also lack in certain social behaviors such as not knowing personal space, not knowing not to pick their nose, or being too touchy with other students.
BYSTANDERS ARE SECONDARY TRAUMA VICTIMS/SURVIVORS
Bystanders (those who witness the incidents) fall into one of two groups: those who act to stop bullying, and those who don’t. The latter could be afraid of retaliation and upset because they wanted to intervene and didn’t. Bystanders who act to stop bullying, however, have beneficial outcomes, including increased self-esteem.
LONG TERM EFFECTS OF BULLYING
Bullied children and teens are more likely to experience depression, anxiety and sometimes long-term damage to self-esteem. Victims often feel lonely. Some victims may fight back with extreme, sudden violence; stopbullying.gov reports that in 12 of 15 school shootings, the shooters had been bullied. Bullies are at higher risk for anti-social, sometimes violent behaviors like getting into fights and destroying property. They often have problems with school, up to and including dropping out. Bully-victims—those who both bully and are bullied—suffer the most serious effects. They are at greater risk for mental and behavioral problems than those who are victims or bullies alone. Children who were victims of bullying have been consistently found to be at higher risk for internalizing problems, in particular diagnoses of anxiety disorder and depression in young adulthood and middle adulthood (18–50 years of age)
Victims were also reported to have more trouble making or keeping friends and to be less likely to live with a partner and have social support. Is that really so surprising? For the victims they may have never been able to speak out about what was going on so they never established that sense of security, trust, or confidence needed in a healthy relationship. For the bully they may have never learned to recognize when others are in distress or been able to have a less than self-centered view on interpersonal relationships. In both cases this does not nurture the development of social supports for either human being.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
· Normalize talking about bullying and educating our children about the different types, consequences, and long-term effects for both sides
· Involve your child’s health practitioner; the more professionals your child hears talking about bullying the more obvious it will be to them when it happens
· Get involved with your child’s school, be aware about any existing programs they have about bullying and show your support -if there are no programs make one!
· If your child has been reported as a bully, victim, or bystander take them to a mental health professional for a family session and work out a plan as a team.
· And of course if you see it report it