We are hearing all too frequently about children who are reaching their breaking point due to being bullied. It is on the evening news, there was an interview this morning on the Today Show, parents are talking about it, television shows are portraying this phenomenon in their story lines, and even though this is something that has been occurring in every generation, it seems to have finally gotten out of control. This may be due to the increased access bullies have to their victims due to the internet, texting, you tube, face book, etc. but no matter what the cause, we need to ensure that our children are protected. We need to ensure they are talking to us or to another adult about any bullying that they may be privy to, in order to keep this from leaping to the extreme that is causing such distress in our children’s lives.
Bullying is something that occurs every day and can happen to anybody. It is defined as “repeated acts of violence against another by someone of higher status or stature”. Bullying can be physical, verbal, psychological, and even cyber offenses. Bullying usually occurs by an individual or group who need to build themselves up by victimizing someone else whom they perceive as different, weak, shy and reserved as or of lesser status than themselves. These bullies may act this way due to their own feelings of low self esteem, lack of self worth, or they may have been treated this way in the past and think this is appropriate. Because parents, teachers, and other appropriate adult support are not available all the time to stem these inappropriate interactions, it is important to prepare children for the possibility of these events occurring.
Harassment is even more prevalent in 2010 and recent years because of modern technology and the fact that the bullying doesn't end with the school day. Across America, in public and private schools 50 percent of students’ surveyed claim to have bullied or harassed another and 47 percent claimed they have been the victim of bullying or harassment...from nursery school up through high school. Cyber bullying is becoming more and more prevalent because it is more subtle and there are less constraints (can occur after school, and there are no adults supervising). There is a greater need for parents and caregivers to get more involved with their kids, know what and who they are talking to online, how they are being treated, how they are treating others, and how they are handling difficult situations.
There are many tips to help teach your child not to become a potential target for bullying: talk to them about the possibility of this occurring (on the playground, on the bus, when they are walking home, when they are online, etc.); encourage them to join clubs or sports so they have a “group” to spend time with and are therefore not “a loner” to be deemed a possible target; and most importantly children need to learn how to be confident in themselves, have a healthy self esteem, to believe in themselves and know that being different is ok.
This task is certainly easier said than done, but the best way to do this is teaching them by example. Parents are typically a child’s most influential role model and the one they look to for appropriate behavior up until a child reaches adolescence. Encouragement, praise, and positive feedback go a long way in teaching children to have healthy self-esteem and confidence. When children are playing sports, trying something new, are kind to a friend or sibling, follow directions, etc. we must be intentional about giving them positive feedback regarding this behavior. Not only saying "good job" or "I am so proud of you", but also explaining WHY it is good or WHY you are proud. If a child is hesitant to try something new, and they receive praise even if they didn't succeed, they will remember that and feel less hesitant the next time. Helping them to focus on the "means" to trying something new or hard even if the end result is not successful is very important in the process of growing their self-esteem and confidence. Also, teaching them to be kind and considerate to others through everyday interactions (driving in traffic, standing in line at the grocery store, holding the door open for a stranger, etc.) are also wonderful acts to teach your child how to appropriately treat others.
On the other side of the coin, we also need to be good role models to ensure our children do not become bullies themselves. If children are raised without a balance of what's good and bad, they will in turn treat others the same way. If they only receive criticism and not instruction; condescension and not caring; punishment and not teaching; laughter and not comfort; technology and not personal time; it is no wonder they grow up with the understanding that this is the way they should behave. If they see their parents judging others, saying condescending things about others to make themselves feel better, making disparaging remarks about someone else’s weaknesses or mistakes to draw a laugh, then this is how they understand they should behave as well.
Children are already feeling uncomfortable with the concept of being bullied and tend to not feel comfortable telling someone what is going on until they have reached a breaking point and many times it is too late to help them. By making this a common household conversation and something they are prepared for and feel they have someone to talk to, we can stop this growing tragedy.