Bullies come in all shapes and sizes. Researchers have failed to identify a link between bullies and any religion, race, income level, family structure or other factor. Bullies may be introverts or extroverts, academic achievers or struggling in school. One of them might even be living under your roof.
Alana Friedman, national Olweus bullying prevention trainer, says bullying is a concern worldwide. “Bullying is a problem in nearly every school system,” she said. “In fact, it's an international problem. It occurs in rural and urban areas regardless of school size or economic status of students.”
Olweus (pronounced Ohl-VAY-us) is an internationally recognized program that employs a fully-integrated approach to bullying prevention. It defines bullying as repeated exposure involving an imbalance of power-- from negative actions that are physical (hitting, kicking) or verbal (name-calling, threatening), to other behaviors such as obscene gestures or intentional exclusion.
Kids bully for a variety of reasons. Some do it to feel powerful or in control. Others do it because they are bullied themselves. Some believe it will increase their status with peers. Often, kids who bully have a difficult time empathizing with their victims.
No one wants to hear that their child is a bully. Yet, according to Friedman, parental involvement is key to stopping the cycle. "There are a number of things parents can do if they suspect their child is bullying," she says. Here's where to start:
- Acknowledge the problem. “Communicate directly with your child,” advises Friedman. “Let them know that you are aware of the bullying, that you take it seriously and that it won’t be tolerated.”
- Be a hands-on parent. Talk to your child and be ready to listen. Know who your child’s friends are. Monitor activities. Work with the school, and keep communication lines open. If they have a bullying prevention program, learn about it. “One of the most important things that parents can do for their kids is to be involved,” says Friedman.
- Decrease violence at home. Turn off violent TV and video games. But also, monitor your own behavior. What do you do when angry? What is it teaching your child?
- Teach positive behaviors. “Reinforce kind, compassionate behavior,” Friedman recommended. “Teach empathy and provide opportunities for cooperation.” Have your child care for a pet, and enroll your child in meaningful activities that cultivate talents and interests while fostering cooperation and friendship.
- Seek professional help, if needed. Sometimes a situation calls for more than parental intervention. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, bullying can be a sign of other serious antisocial or violent behavior, which can lead to future problems in school and with the law. A 1993 Olweus study found that boys who were identified as bullies in middle school were four times as likely to have a criminal conviction by age 24.
Bullies are made, not born. If left unchecked, bullying can lead to serious life-altering consequences. If your child has adopted bullying behaviors, you can help him or her turn things around and get back on a better track. So open those lines of communication. And don't forget to show some compassion along with that firm hand-- your child is watching.