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Bullying: An Epidemic of Cruelty
By Noami Drew

Every time I work in schools I hear stories about how kids are so mean to each other. This is confirmed by many experts who are now saying there is an epidemic of cruelty among kids in our country. In fact, The Sesame Workshop recently came out with a study about what children ages 6-11 are most afraid of. At the top of the list was bullying. How have things gotten to this point?

The facts are alarming. 1 in 7 kids are bullies or victims of bullies and 5 million elementary/middle school kids are directly affected each year. One quarter of all bullies end up with a criminal record. 160,00 kids a day miss school for fear of the way they will be treated by peers.

Everyone loses when bullying takes place: the bully, the victim, and the observers. Each time you look the other way, you enable bullying to continue. Bullying can diminish ability to learn in school. It is possible to get a handle on bullying, but the whole school community needs to get involved.

DISTINGUISHING BETWEEN BULLYING AND TEASING

Bullying happens when a stronger, more powerful person hurts or frightens a smaller or weaker person (or someone who is perceived to be that way) deliberately and repeatedly.

It differs from teasing in two ways. When someone bullies, they have the intent to do harm, whereas teasing can be intended as playful even though it often ends up hurting the other person. Also, bullying is persistent. Teasing can be an on-again, off- again thing. What we need to remember about teasing is this: if it hurts the other person it is NOT okay. Often the person who does the teasing will tell the person who is being teased to be a good sport or have a sense of humor. If the teasing hurts, this is an unreasonable request. No one should ever be expected to tolerate words or actions that make him or her feel demeaned.

STEPS PARENTS CAN TAKE IF YOU THINK YOUR CHILD IS BEING BULLIED

1. If you suspect your child is being bullied and he denies it, ask the following questions:
- Are there any bullies in your class?
- Who does the bully pick on?
- Why does the bully pick on certain people?
- Are you one of them?

2. Believe your child if he tells you he is being bullied.

Listen intently and determine if the behavior he tells you about is persistent and demeaning. If you feel that what your child describes falls into the category of teasing, ask what measures he has taken to alleviate the problem. See if there is anything he is doing to encourage the teaser, and role-play ways he can address the situation himself. If it continues, talk to the teacher.

If what your child describes actually turns out to be bullying, then go to step 3.

3. Contact your child’s teacher. Ask him or her to:
- Intervene.
- Monitor the safety of your child.
- Give the bully consequences.
- Stay in touch with you.

4. Do things to build self-esteem and confidence in your child.

5. Teach your child assertiveness skills.

Standing tall, looking the person directly in the eye, steadying the voice, rehearsing a response -- all this can be learned and practiced ahead of time, and needs to be. Enrolling your child in Aikido or Karate can help build confidence, but it is important to tell your child NOT to use these disciplines in a physical way against the bully unless attacked. .

6. If your child has trouble making friends, address this issue with the school counselor. See if you can determine what is keeping your child from sustaining friendships and then work on these issues together.

7. Be extra supportive. Check in with your child often.

If your child is being bullied, he will need larger doses of your support than usual. Make extra time to be there for him. Allow him to express his anger, fear, frustration, and sadness. Encourage him to write a journal about it. Most importantly, let him know he is not alone and that the bullying is not his fault.

8. Make sure no bullying goes on in your home.

When kids see bullying of any kind in their homes (between spouses, between siblings, parent to child), it makes them more susceptible to being either the bully or the victim. Be aware of this and take whatever steps you can to alleviate the situation if it does take place in your home. No one deserves to be bullied.

9. Remember -- you are the most important ally your child has. It is your role to intervene if your child is being hurt or victimized. One of the most damaging myths is that bullying is a kids-will-be-kids kind of problem. This is simply untrue. Kids who are being bullied need the support of the people around them.

Facts About Bullying

Bullying is not just teasing. It is a cruel way that one person tries to assert power over another.

Bullying is not a normal part of growing up. Bullying can lead to depression and suicide. If we look the other way and justify it as normal, we enable the problem to continue.

Ignoring the bully doesn’t help. Sometimes ignoring them inflames them more.

All bullies do not have low self-esteem. Studies have found that some bullies actually have high self-esteem. Bullying fuels their sense of power.

Telling an adult about being bullied is not tattling. Encourage kids to stand up for themselves and others.

Fighting makes the situation worse. Kids need to be assertive, not aggressive in standing up to bullies.

What Your Child Can Do If He/She Is Being Bullied

- Stand tall, look the person in the eye, and say firmly: Leave me alone! Or:
Stop it! Then walk away with your head held high.

- Use an I message like: I don’t want to be spoken to that way. There is no truth in what you are saying.

Then, again, walk away with your head held high. Do not engage in a bicker session. The bully will always win. Keep your dignity by standing tall and proud.

- Do not take their behavior personally. Bullies are always looking for victims; you just happen to be the one they picked this time.

- Even if you are scared, stand tall and look brave. Take slow deep breaths and repeat a calming statement like: I can handle this.

- Join other people. Being alone attracts bullies.

- Tell an adult and ask for help. This is not tattling. You have a legitimate right to get seek help.

What Teachers Can Do to Handle Bullies

- Confront the behavior.

- Give a consequence.

- Teach them how to manage their anger.

- Have them make amends to the person they hurt.

- Teach them how to channel their energy in a positive way.

- Contact parents if problem continues.

- Arrange for counseling if the problem is ongoing.

FINAL THOUGHTS

There are practical measures parents and schools can take to deal with the problem of bullying head-on. Parents, encourage your school to institute a bully-proofing program. Bullying is a systemic problem and needs to be handled school-wide.

One of the most important things schools and parents can teach children is to stand up for each other -- to intervene when someone is being picked on. Teach your child to do this respectfully yet assertively. Interveners are the most critical piece in stamping out bullying. Best to intervene with a partner. Doing this with someone else gives moral support, plus sends the bully a message that the child he is picking on is not alone.

Talk to your child about ways he or she can be an intervener. Helping someone who is being hurt builds courage and character and will counter the cruelty we see going on among our youth.


Remember, peace begins with each of us.

Noami Drew is the author of The Kids’ Guide to Working Out Conflicts as well as Hope and Healing: Peaceful Parenting in an Uncertain World (Kensington Publishers); Peaceful Parents, Peaceful Kids (Kensington Publishers); Learning the Skills of Peacemaking (Jalmar Press); and
The Peaceful Classroom in Action (Jalmar Press). Her books are available through:
www.LearningPeace.com

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