The school year has started again, and students and parents are focusing their attention on classes, homework, games and schedules.
But a new school year often brings back a far greater concern - bullying.
Bullying can happen anywhere. Today, bullying is as prevalent as ever, perhaps even more so.
The reason behind this is that today's "anywhere" includes not only the playground at lunchtime, but also cyberspace, Facebook and texting.
Before computer notebooks, cell phones and text messages, students were able to leave bullies behind when they went home from school each afternoon.
But now, bullies can send messages to their victims through text messages on cell phones, messages on computers and postings on Facebook.
Because bullying is so difficult to escape, now is the time to talk to your child about how to handle a bully if faced with one.
Bullying has been linked to a number of conditions including depression.
Children may experience mood changes, withdraw from activities they once enjoyed, or exhibit anxiety about going to school, or spending time with peers.
Physical symptoms may include recurrent sleep problems and headaches.
While only a few studies have evaluated the longer-term consequences of bullying, a study in an article on bullying published in the Journal of the American Medical Association noted that "individuals with a history of bullying had a four-fold increase in criminal behavior by the time they reached their mid 20s."
How to Handle a Bully.
- Stay calm and alert. Consider the options and do nothing to escalate the situation.
- Walk away. Fighting isn't worth it. You do not have to prove yourself by fighting.
- Take a non-violent stand. Speak respectfully: "I don't want to fight you."
- Report it to authorities, but discuss with them how you will be protected from retaliation.
- Get away. Find safety or call for help.
How to Cope with Bullying.
There are many things parents can do to help their child cope with bullying.
Some tips to help your child cope with bullying:
- Keep an open dialogue with your child. If your child stops talking about harassment or teasing, do not assume it has stopped. Continue asking questions.
- Sometimes kids just want to be heard. Do not try to immediately problem solve.
- If your child is being bullied at school, discuss the problem with a teacher or administrator. They may not be aware of the situation.
- Work with school officials to make schools safer, www.safeyouth.org contains a wealth of information on innovative school safety programs including bullying prevention initiatives. If your child is suffering, expect help from the school, and make sure you get it.
- Encourage positive activities outside of school to build competencies.
- Encourage your child's school to establish peer support groups. Children dislike bullying at their school and want to help stop it. Peers need to be taught how to intervene.
- During school vacations, know where your child spends the day and with whom he or she spends it. If your child experiences problems, make alternative arrangements.
- Talk to your children. Let your child know it's not his or her fault, and that he or she did the right thing by telling you. Support at home is the first step towards preventing bullying behavior. Try role-playing with solutions to difficult situations and encourage family discussions.
- Take it seriously. Kids don't ask for help lightly. If they are asking for help, it is most likely serious.
- Most importantly, do all you can to build your child's sense of self-esteem. Support and understanding at home are critical in helping children of all ages cope with bullying.
How to Prevent Bullying.
Parents often do not learn that their children are bullying other kids until they get a phone call from school or another child's parents. If you suspect that your child is picking on others, here are some ways to intervene:
- Notice if your child lacks empathy, dominates others, is selfish or refuses to accept responsibility. This could be a warning sign of bullying tendencies.
- If your child ever engages in bullying acts, he should apologize to the victims and undo any damage, such as replacing stolen or destroyed property.
- Make sure your child doesn't hang out with other bullies who may be influencing his behavior. If he does, encourage new friendships.
- Help your child understand that physical or emotional abuse is never acceptable.
- Talk to your child, other parents, and teachers about what is going on. The more you know about your child's everyday activities, the better you can prevent at-risk behavior.