Stopping Bullying Behaviors: Advice for Parents and Caregivers (page 3)
Every day in our schools (and communities) children are teased, threatened, and tormented by bullies. Bullying has been identified as a problem that creates a climate of fear, affecting the whole school. Those who fail to recognize and stop bullying behavior as it occurs actually promote violence. If we fail to stop the behavior, we send a message to the bully that “You have the right to hurt people,” and a message to the victim that, “You are not worth protecting.” This message needs to be changed and changed now.
Bullying is a form of abuse.
Harassment And Violence
Harassment and abuse are more accurate names for it. Parents and school personnel should no longer consider bullying “just a part of growing up.” It is harmful to both the perpetrators and the victims and is responsible for behavioral and emotional difficulties, long-term negative outcomes, and violence.
The National Institutes of Health (2000) recently reported that in the United States alone, bullying affects more than 5 million students in grades 6 through 11. One out of 7 students reported being victimized. The violence that erupted at several schools in highly publicized shooting incidents in the late 1990s spurred several State legislatures to propose laws requiring schools to adopt anti-bullying policies. By 2001, New Hampshire, West Virginia, and Colorado had passed laws, while others are pending in Illinois, New York, and Washington.
The severity of the problem has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS), and other agencies. In response to this critical issue, SAMHSA/ CMHS is launching a Bullying Prevention Initiative with the help of prime-time television, public service messages, and bullying prevention educational materials. This on-going multi-media communication Initiative – titled 15+ Make Time To Listen, Take Time To Talk... About Bullying – will bring this critical message directly to the children, parents and schools affected by these issues.
This article, for parents and schools, is a part of that Initiative. We hope that they and all adults who supervise children will learn what can be done, together, to take seriously their responsibility to prevent bullying among our youth.
Most people know what bullies are
They even know what problems victims of bullies sometimes face: years of constant anxiety, insecurity, and low self-esteem. Yet bullying problems often are ignored or denied.
Large numbers of students have been bullied over long periods of time while nobody paid any attention! Today, however, more people are recognizing that it is a basic democratic right for a student to feel secure at school and not to be troubled by offensive and humiliating treatment. Because of highly publicized school incidents, we now know that ignoring bullying can lead to violence or make a victim feel so overwhelmed that he or she sees suicide as the only way out.
The 15+ Make Time to Listen – Take Time to Talk Initiative has taken the stand:
No student should be afraid to go to school because of bullying, and no parent should be worried that their child may be bullied.
Some Facts About Bullying Among Children And Young People
Generally, we call it bullying when one or more persons repeatedly say or do hurtful things to another person who has problems defending himself or herself. Direct bullying usually involves hitting, kicking, or making insults, offensive and sneering comments, or threats.
Repeatedly teasing someone who clearly shows signs of distress is also recognized as bullying. However, indirect bullying—the experience of being excluded from a group of friends, being spoken ill of and being prevented from making friends—can be just as painful.
Most bullying takes place at the same grade level. However, many times older students bully younger students. Although direct bullying is a greater problem among boys, a good deal of bullying takes place among girls. Bullying between girls, however, involves less physical violence and can be more difficult to discover. Girls tend to use indirect and subtle methods of bullying, such as exclusion from a group of friends, backbiting, and manipulation of friendships. Far more boys than girls bully, and many girls are mostly bullied by boys, but both can be victims of bullying.
These three conditions create a bullying situation:
- Negative or malicious behavior.
- Behavior repeated over a period of time.
- A relationship in which there is an imbalance in strength or power between the parties involved.
Fact: How Much Bullying Goes On?
Major studies in Norway in the 1980s and 1990s with more than 150,000 students found that about 15 percent of students in primary and lower secondary school, or approximately one in seven students, were involved in bullying with a degree of regularity—as a victim, as a bully, or both. At least 5 percent (more than 1in 20) of all students were involved in more serious bullying at least once a week.
In the United States in 1998, the prevalence of bullying was found to be even more substantial. A study carried out with a national sample of more than 15,000 students in grades 6 through 10 found about 30 percent of the sample reported moderate or frequent involvement in bullying—as a bully, as a victim, or both. Students in middle school (grades 6 through 8) reported greater frequency of bullying than did students in grades 9 and 10.
Similar results were obtained in another study of more than 6,000 middle school students in rural South Carolina. About 23 percent reported that they had been bullied by other students “several times” or more frequently during the past three months.
Approximately 20 percent reported that they had bullied other students with the same frequency.
Fact: Where Does Bullying Take Place?
The claim is sometimes made that most bullying takes place on the way to school, not at school. However, research shows that two to three times as many students are bullied at school compared to those who are bullied on the way to school. Approximately 40 to 75 percent of bullying takes place during breaks—in the schoolyard, in the corridors, at recess, or in more secluded places, like bathrooms. It can also take place during classes unless the teacher is attentive and cracks down on any tendencies toward bullying. Without a doubt, school is the place where most bullying occurs. This puts particular responsibility on school leaders and teachers. It is clear that the behavior, attitudes, and routines of teachers and other school personnel have a decisive effect on the extent of bullying in the individual school or class. Of course, parents, caregivers and supervisors in many other places—in kindergartens, playgrounds, and sports and youth clubs, for example—also need to be alert to detect bullying or tendencies toward bullying.
Fact: Who Gets Bullied?
Research gives a fairly clear picture of those who are potential victims of bullying. They tend to have at least one, or usually several, of the characteristics listed below. These lists only indicate main trends; in some cases, victims may be quite different. Potential victims of bullying can be divided into two main groups:
The passive or submissive victim
Most children in this category are not aggressive or teasing in their manner and usually do not actively provoke others in their surroundings. However, passive victims of bullying generally signal, through their behavior and attitudes, that they are a bit anxious and unsure of themselves.
Detailed interviews with parents of bullied boys predominantly of the passive/ submissive type indicate that these boys were characteristically rather careful and sensitive from an early age. Having this kind of personality (possibly in addition to physical weakness) may have made it difficult for them to assert themselves in their group of playmates, which may have contributed to these boys becoming victims of bullying. At the same time, it is obvious that long-term bullying probably increased their anxiety, insecurity, and negative self-image.
The features that can be seen in long-suffering victims of bullying may be both a cause for, and a result of, being bullied.
- These students are usually quiet, careful, sensitive, and may start crying easily.
- They are unsure of themselves and have poor self confidence (negative self-image).
- The boys in this group do not like to fight, and they are often physically weaker than their classmates, especially the bullies.
- They have few or no friends.
The provocative victim
This category is less common and accounts for only about 10 to 20 percent of the victims.
A class with a provocative victim of bullying generally has somewhat different problems than a class with a passive victim. It is more common that a number of students, sometimes the whole class, may be involved in harassing the provocative victim.
- They may themselves try to bully weaker students.
- They can be quick tempered and may try to retaliate if they are attacked or harassed, but often without much success.
- They are often restless, clumsy, immature, unable to concentrate, and generally considered difficult.
- Some may be characterized as hyperactive (unsettled and restless because of concentration difficulties) and often have reading/writing problems.
- They may also be disliked by adults—their teacher, for example—because of their irritating behavior.
Fact: Who Bullies?
Children and young people who are potential bullies have a number of common features. Again, it must be emphasized that these points are just the main trends. All the same, it is likely that an active bully will have one or more of the following characteristics.
It has often been presumed that bullies are anxious and unsure of themselves underneath their tough surface. However, research finds that bullies are characterized by either unusually low or about average levels of anxiety and insecurity. Their self-image is also about average or even relatively positive.
Some bullies are popular, others are not. A bully will often have a group of two or three friends who provide him or her with support and often join in the bullying. However, the popularity of the bully lessens at the higher class/grade levels.
- They view violence more favorably than most students do.
- They are often aggressive toward adults, both parents and teachers.
- They have a marked need to dominate and suppress other students, to assert themselves by means of force and threats, and to get their own way.
- Boys in this group are often stronger than their peers and, in particular, their victims.
- They are often hot-tempered, impulsive, and not very tolerant of obstacles and delays (frustrations).
- They find it difficult to fit in with rules.
- They appear to be tough and show little sympathy toward students who are bullied.
- They are good at talking their way out of difficult situations.
“The Real Story”
For 2 years, Sam, a quiet 13-year-old, was a human plaything for some of his classmates. The teenagers badgered Sam for money, forced him to swallow weeds and drink sour milk, beat him up in the rest room, and tied a string around his neck and led him around as a “pet.” When Sam’s torturers were asked about the bullying, they said they pursued their victim because “it was fun.”
Fact: Group Bullying
Bullying MAY ALSO BE a group phenomenon with particular characteristics. This means that there are a number of children and young people who may at times be involved in bullying, but who would not usually take the initiative themselves. These are called passive bullies, henchmen, or bystanders. The group of passive bullies is quite mixed and may include uncertain or anxious students.
Some of the mechanisms that may be active in group bullying are:
- Social contagion
Some students may be influenced to take part in bullying if the student leading the bullying is someone they admire. Children or young people who are themselves somewhat insecure and who want to assert themselves are mostly the ones who join in.
- Weakening of normal controls
If neither the teachers nor the other students try to stop bullying, the bully or bullies are rewarded through their “victory” over their victim. This can contribute to weakening the controls against the aggressive tendencies of neutral students and may contribute to their participation in bullying.
- Decreased sense of individual responsibility
Social psychology notes that a person’s sense of individual responsibility for a negative action such as bullying may be considerably reduced when several people participate. In this way, students who are usually nice, but easily influenced, can at times take part in bullying without particular misgivings.
- Gradual changes in the perception of the victim of bullying
As a result of repeated attacks and degrading comments, the victim will gradually be perceived as a fairly worthless person who almost “begs to be beaten up.” This also results in lesser feelings of guilt in those who are taking part in the bullying and may be part of the explanation of why other students do not try to stop the harassment of the victim.
Q&A: How Do I Find Out If My Child Is Being Bullied?
You need to have frequent conversations with your child or adolescent to ask about what happens at school. Establishing a relationship helps you keep the lines of communication open and gives you a sense of context for what your child or adolescent experiences day-to-day.
If you get a note from your child’s school saying that he or she is being bullied by the other students, take it seriously. The problem is, however, that you cannot always be sure that the school/teachers will discover that your child is having this sort of problem or that they realize how serious a situation is. Neither can you expect that your child will necessarily talk about problems of this nature to you. There can be various reasons for this. Your child may feel that being bullied is a personal defeat, or he or she may have received threats from the bullies. The child may have tried before to tell an adult about the bullying and may not have been given any real help. He or she may be afraid that involving adults will make the bullying even worse. Therefore, you must be particularly sensitive to signs and changes in your child.
It is important that you do not try to explain away your child’s problems and hope that they will go away by themselves. It has been clearly documented that bullying can negatively impact a child’s formative years as well as later adult life. Research suggests that systematic bullying can leave deep psychological scars which can lead to depressive attitudes and a tendency toward negative self-image, even years after the bullying has ended.
Q&A: What are the Warning Signs?
- Comes home with torn, dirty, or wet clothes or damaged books, or “loses” things without being able to give a proper explanation of what has happened.
- Has bruises, injuries, cuts, and scratches and cannot give a credible explanation for what caused them.
- Loses interest in school and gets poorer grades.
- Does not bring classmates home and rarely spends time with classmates after school.
- Seems afraid or unwilling to go to school in the morning.
- Chooses an “illogical” route to and from school.
- Seems unhappy, downhearted, depressed, or has mood swings with sudden outbursts of irritation or anger.
- Often has little appetite, headaches, or stomach aches.
- Sleeps restlessly with nightmares and possibly cries in his/her sleep.
- Steals or asks for extra money from members of the family (to soften up the bullies)
Q&A: How Do I Find Out Whether My Child Is Bullying?
It can be difficult to discover and to acknowledge that your own child is a bully. Bullying other students is obviously not something a child will talk about at home. But if several of the points described under “Who Bullies?” fit your child, you should take this seriously and look more closely into the matter.
Bullying can be seen as a part of a general pattern of anti-social and rule-breaking behavior. Children who are bullies during their school years are at a much higher risk of later becoming involved in crime, misuse of alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs. If your child is bullying others, it is important to break this pattern, not just for the sake of the victim, but also for your own child’s sake.
- Has a marked need to dominate or manipulate others.
- Is aggressive, nasty, spiteful, and generally in opposition.
- Seems to like to insult, push around, or tease other children.
What Can Parents Do?
If you suspect or it is obvious that your child is being bullied by other students and the school has not already informed you of the situation, then it is important that you contact the school immediately. Parents should have the right to expect the school to take this seriously and to investigate the facts in the case. This will usually involve talks with you and your child, with the suspected bully or bullies and with other students in the class. Also, if appropriate, talks with a number of other parents (for example, the parents of the bullies) who may have important information to contribute.
Once the facts are on the table, a detailed plan must be drawn up of how you and the school together can put an end to the bullying.
Although it is important that home and school work together in cases of bullying, it must be emphasized that the school should take the main responsibility to initiate and coordinate the work involved in counteracting bullying in school.
Some parents who have approached schools with their worries and suspicions about their child being bullied have had the door closed in their faces with comments such as “there isn’t any bullying at our school” or “you are worrying about nothing.” If you are reasonably sure that your child is being bullied, a good starting point for taking up the situation with the school can be to ask your child (along with you, if it seems appropriate) to keep a concise log book describing the incidents of harassment or bullying—when they occurred, who took part, and what was said and done. Then you can make a more concrete presentation when you contact the school. It can be a good idea, too, to discuss the situation with the parents of other children in the class. If they have also reported problems with bullying, it will, of course, be easier to urge the school to act.
Parents: Don’t Give Up!
Sometimes bullied students do not want their parents to talk with school officials. Victims often do not want to be the center of attention and are afraid of getting the bully into trouble by telling adults about what is going on. In many cases, these children have also been threatened with increased bullying if they tell. Threats cause many victims of bullying to suffer in silence or to pressure their parents not to contact the school.
In most cases, however, you are doing your child a dis-service if you do not pursue the issue. If your child will not agree to your suggestions out of fear, you must still take responsibility for sorting out the problem. Most bullied children eventually feel a great sense of relief when the situation finally comes out into the open. From a long-term perspective, it is also detrimental to the bullies when their behavior is overlooked. If the situation is properly dealt with, the bully will be helped, too.
Parents: Let the School Arrange a Meeting
Once bullying has been discovered, the school should contact the parents of both the victim(s) and the bullies to inform them and to try to establish constructive cooperation. Since a victim’s parents usually should not contact the bully’s parents directly, the school could arrange a meeting at which the students, as well as their parents, are present. The aim of such a meeting is to bring about a thorough discussion of the situation and to arrive at a concrete plan of action. If the bully has damaged the victim’s clothes or other possessions, it would be reasonable to bring up the question of compensation. Another aim must be to try to establish a collaboration with the parents of the bully/ies and to get them to exert their influence over their children in a purposeful way.
Many parents of students who bully others have little idea of what their child has been doing at school. When the situation is clarified for them, a number of parents want to contribute to bringing about positive changes. On the other hand, some bullies’ parents try to play down the problems and generally take a defensive stand. They may not even come to meetings designed to address the problem. Even if it is not possible to establish any reasonably positive communication with some parents, a serious attempt to do so must still be made. In any case, the bully’s parents must be kept informed about the situation.
The initial meeting should not be a one-time event. It should be followed up with more meetings so that the development of the situation can be further evaluated and information can be exchanged between parents and teachers.
It is, of course, also important to check that any decisions that have been made are being put into action. Under favorable circumstances, relatively positive relations can develop between the parents of bullies and the parents of the victim. This can be an important step in putting an end to the bullying.
Sometimes, however, it is clear in advance that the relationship between the bullies’ and the victim’s families is tense and hostile. In such situations, it is sensible to hold meetings with one family at a time before possibly arranging a joint meeting, and it may be necessary to involve the school social worker, counselor, or psychologist.
Parents: Make Sure the Bullied Child Gets Effective Protection
One thing must be made absolutely clear when an attempt is being made to resolve a bullying situation—the victim of bullying must be guaranteed effective protection. Close follow-up is needed until the danger of new attempts at bullying has passed. Teachers and school administrators have a special responsibility to safeguard the victim at school. The bullied student must be able to trust that the adults are both willing and capable of providing the help he or she needs. If bullying problems are taken up in class in a rushed or casual manner, without ensuring that the victim is given solid protection against further harassment, the situation will almost always become worse. In order to provide the bullied student with sufficient security, close cooperation and frequent exchange of information is usually needed between the school and the student’s family.
Having a child who is bullied means seeing your child become an outcast, frozen out, and completely isolated. Most of what you read is about bullies and victims who are boys. Bullying is also found among girls, but it is not so obvious from the outside. It is not usually a matter of damaged clothes or bruised arms and legs. Bullying among girls bypasses physical pain and goes right into the soul. Bullying among girls is less concrete or visible.
How can I as a mother, accuse the girls bullying my 14-year-old daughter for having stopped phoning, for not saying hello, for speaking badly of her behind her back, for changing places in the classroom, for always commenting on and making fun of what she says, etc. Nothing they do (or don’t do) is against the rules.
As a mother, I have a great sense of grief and helplessness in the face of what my daughter has to go through. In desperation, I have tried to talk to the mothers of two of my daughter’s previous friends. It wasn’t particularly helpful; some parents just can’t accept that their children are criticized by outsiders. They defend their children at any cost, no matter how ridiculous this may be.
I wouldn’t wish the grief and helplessness I feel on any parents, but I wish you and your children could actually feel just for a short time what my daughter and our family have had to live with for the last 6 months or so. Then perhaps you would understand.
Signed: Despairing Mother
Parents: What Can You Do If Your Child Is A Victim?
Many students who become victims of bullying would probably develop quite normally if they did not have to face aggressive fellow students. An essential part of counter-acting bullying in school is to stop or change the bullies’ and their accomplices’ behavior. The parents of children who are victims of bullying should not view bullying as an unavoidable part of growing up.
At the same time, it is also clear that many victims of bullying are unsure of themselves and somewhat anxious by nature, with relatively low self-confidence and few or no friends. So in some cases, it may be sensible for you to try to help your child adapt better to school life and other environments—maybe regardless of the actual bullying situation.
Steps You Can Take
Help your child strengthen his or her self-confidence, for example, by stimulating the development of any talents or positive qualities.
Help your child join other groups of children of the same age (who preferably are not in the same class at school) in sports, music, or other leisure time activities. Physical training in particular, if your child has the interest or ability, results in the child “giving out different signals” to those around him or her.
Encourage your child to make contact with (and perhaps bring home) a friendly student from the same class, or from another class. As socially excluded children often lack relationship-making skills, it is important that you, or perhaps the school counselor, help your child with concrete advice on how to go about making friends with peers.
It is important that you consistently support your child’s contacts and activity outside of the family. Try to avoid being over-protective, but keep an eye on what is going on and arrange situations that can bring about positive development.
Sometimes a child (especially the provocative victim of bullying) behaves in a way that irritates and provokes those around him or her. In such cases, you have the task of carefully, but firmly and consistently, helping your child find more suitable ways of reacting and interacting in friendship groups.
If your child exhibits some hyperactivity, it may be necessary to get extra help from a mental health professional.
Reprinted with the permission of the National Mental Health Information Center.