Stopbullying.gov defines bullying as “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.”
Face-to-face bullying can occur inside a school building, on a playground, on a bus, in the neighborhood or through extracurricular activities like sports. Cyberbullying can occur through cell phones via text or apps and through online social media.
Victims of bullying can experience mental, emotional, physical and academic consequences including:
- Stomachaches or headaches
- Problems with sleep or appetite
- Lack of interest in extracurricular activities
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Thoughts of self-harm or suicide*
*If your child/teenager is experiencing thoughts of suicide, they (or you) can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for assistance from a trained counselor. If you believe your child or teen is in immediate danger, call 911.
According to Stopbullying.gov, 20% of U.S. students ages 12-18 experience bullying. To help prevent face-to-face bullying, parents and guardians can:
- Model kindness. You’re often the first person your child looks to as an example of how to act. If you’re “walking the walk” by choosing kind words and actions, your child is more likely to behave in a similar way.
- Empower with knowledge. Help your child understand what bullying looks like, what the negative effects can be, how to get help and what to do if they witness someone else being bullied.
- Cultivate relationships in the community. “It takes a village” to help prevent bullying. This includes school staff (teachers, principals, bus drivers, etc.), other parents, religious leaders, coaches, etc. Fostering positive relationships with other community members provides a good example for your child and helps to strengthen bonds to protect against bullying.
The Pew Research Center indicates that 59% of teens have been harassed online, and other research suggests that the risk of being a cyberbullying target increases with the child’s age. To help prevent cyberbullying, parents and guardians can:
- Provide education. Teach your children/teens to avoid risky “digital” behavior as well as the negative effects of cyberbullying. Share with them the steps they can take if they do experience cyberbullying.
- Encourage open communication. Regularly discuss their digital usage with a friendly/curious stance. Create an environment where they feel comfortable sharing with you if they do encounter a cyberbullying situation.
- Help them maintain some “social privacy.” This can include making social media accounts private, preventing others from tagging them, etc. Decide on a different, strong password for each account and encourage them to change it often (with your knowledge) and not to share it with others. For cell phones, determine who they can share their location with. Remind them to log out of public devices like school laptops or library computers.
- Encourage critical thinking. Remember the old adage, “If you wouldn’t want it printed in the newspaper, don’t do it.” The same idea applies to text/social media. Let your child/teen know that what they share can live on forever in the digital era
Though there is no perfect way to ensure your child will not experience bullying, taking the preventative measures above can help reduce the likelihood of them becoming a target of bullying.