From the school hallway to the playground to your child’s bedroom: bullies are everywhere. While bullying is nothing new, the way bullies behave and how they access your children has changed. Today, about 37% of those ages 12-17 have been bullied online, according to dosomething.org.
And because 95% of teens in the United States are online and accessing the internet on their smartphones, cyberbullying has ramped up.
Still, the old methods of bullying remain. Kids are still the subject of rumors or lies, called names or made fun of, pushed or tripped in the hallway, left out or even threatened right at school.
“More than half of my patients have had some bullying throughout their young lives,” says Gigi Colombini, a psychotherapist and founder of the Institute for Hope and Human Flourishing. She says bullying may not be the immediate reason her patients find their way to her, but it’s a common thread from their childhood experiences, especially in late elementary or middle school. “Middle school can be really tough,” she says.
Bullying is less verbal and physical by high school, says the Monique Burr Foundation for Children. However, cyberbullying increases.
Bullying can have serious effects on a child’s mental health. Here’s how, and what parents can do to help a child who is being bullied and the one who is doing the bullying.
A bully’s impact
A perceived imbalance of power, the intention to hurt someone and a repeat of the behavior over time — these are the three components of bullying. A child who is bullied is more likely to experience depression, anxiety and low self-esteem than one who is not, according to stopbullying.gov.
“Research indicates that persistent bullying can lead to or worsen feelings of isolation, rejection, exclusion, and despair, as well as depression and anxiety, which can contribute to suicidal behavior,” according to the site.
However, when it comes to the correlation between bullying and suicide, things are not so simple.
“It’s a risk factor. It’s not a warning sign,” Colombini says. “If somebody is already suicidal and then they start being bullied, the risk will increase because that’s another disempowerment, another stressor, another thing they feel hopeless about.”
It turns out that the children who are most at risk in terms of suicide-related behavior are those who have been both the perpetrator and the victim of bullying.
That’s right: your child’s bully is at risk too.
“Something is going on inside of them that’s causing them to hurt somebody else and they just don’t know how to communicate it,” Colombini says. It’s likely they’ve learned the behavior because they have been bullied. If your child is on the giving end of the bullying relationship, you need to help them figure out how to solve their problem or reach their goal in a way that doesn’t hurt others.
“It’s taking them outside of themselves and having to look at what’s happening so they can gain empathy and more understanding,” she says.
Ask your child the following questions: What was going on? Why were you doing that? What was going on inside of you? What are two or three things you could have done? What can you do to help yourself feel better?
Ultimately, parents want to guide their child toward better behavior.
Getting help for the bullied child
When a child is being bullied, you may notice a shift in their behavior. They could start to withdraw, act out or not want to go to school. Perhaps they are complaining of stomach aches and headaches to get out of going to class.
If you notice these behaviors and want to broach the subject with your child, don’t come right out and say, “Is somebody bullying you?” Instead say, “Is there somebody at school that you’re having a hard time with?” Colombini suggests.
If your child opens up to you about their struggle, let them know that there is nothing wrong with them. It’s about the person who is doing the bullying, she adds.
From there, parents should communicate with the school and find out if the school has mechanisms in place to combat bullying. If the child is afraid to go to school, reach out immediately and follow up on what’s being done at the school. “The parents and the schools have to keep the kids safe,” Colombini says.
Monitor your child’s social media presence, as well. After all, Instagram is where 42% of youth report experiencing harassment, dosomething.org notes. Harassment can also escalate to cybercrimes including sextortion, a form of blackmail that involves threatening to expose an individual online with explicit photos — even outing an LGBT person against their consent.
Sextortion is “bullying to the nth degree,” Colombini adds.
“We feel like our kids are safe inside their rooms and it’s just not true,” she says. “We’re not as educated on the social media stuff as our kids are and it’s even sometimes hard to track,” so stay on top of them and ask questions. “We really need to be vigilant.”
Content sponsored by the Ethel and James Flinn Foundation. Visit flinnfoundation.org.