By Dr. Nina Radcliff
Bullying has been a part of society but today’s school environments are experiencing more incidents coupled with the continuing rise of Internet and Smartphone use—setting in motion a horrific new reality for our nation’s students. The facts are staggering, with the impact on lives deeply concerning! As well, bullying can affect everyone—those who are bullied, those who bully, and those who witness bullying. And there are mounds of studies showing that it is linked to negative outcomes including impact on physical, mental and emotional health and well-being, both in the short-term and lasting long into adulthood. Bullying is not just bad for kids at the time, but bad for everybody, always.
According to the National Center for Educational Statistics in 2016, one in every five students report being bullied. And, the majority (64%) of children do not report it. Sadly, the facts are that everyday an estimated 160,000 students miss school for fear of being bullied. Add to this, reports estimate 35% of kids are being threatened online. In our internet-powered age, cyberbullying has escalated it to an extremely sophisticated and perilous type of social harassment.
Anyone who is bullied feels powerless and their self-identity as a competent person who is able to protect and see themselves in the world, becomes wounded. As well, although an incident of bullying may have occurred many years ago, the damage to the individual’s self-concept may remain. As an adult, victims of bullying may have doubts about their ability to handle social situations, to manage incidences of conflict or doubts about their worth. These feelings of weakness or incompetence can haunt them in their education, their work lives and in their relationships.
DR. NINA’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: ABOUT BULLYING
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines it as “any unwanted aggressive behavior(s) by another youth or group of youths who are not siblings or current dating partners that involves an observed or perceived power imbalance and is repeated multiple times or is highly likely to be repeated.”
Bullying may come as physical or verbal attacks or making threats, and even includes spreading rumors, humiliation, or excluding someone from a group on purpose. Generally, kids who bully use their physical strength, power, or popularity or have access to embarrassing information to control or harm others over time and in different situations. Consequently, the targets are oftentimes smaller, weaker, younger, or more vulnerable than the bullies. And, too, while most reported bullying occurs at school, it can also occur on the playground, to and from school, on the bus, in the victim’s neighborhood, or on the internet.
Harmful Impact: Research underscores that children who are bullied can experience negative physical, social, mental, emotional and educational effects or consequences. Victimized youth are at increased risk for loss of confidence, depression, anxiety, sleep difficulties, changes in eating patterns, suicidal ideation, isolation, loneliness, anger issues and poor school adjustment. They often have more health complaints, as well. And, they too may become bullies to try to gain a sense of power and control in their lives.
The bully is also at increased risk for academic problems, early sexual activity, substance abuse, vandalism, criminal behaviors and violence in adolescence and adulthood.
Steps to help prevent (and stop) bullying: The ultimate goal is to stop bullying before it starts. Today there is an increased awareness and while every state has implemented anti-bullying laws and schools have created prevention programs to protect their students – we must remain vigilant to take action.
Our child may be bullied, observe someone being bullied or, even, be the bully. As a parent, it is our responsibility to talk to our children about bullying. While schools need to be actively involved, ultimately it’s up to parents to ensure that kids aren’t bullying – that includes online. With proper digital monitoring, parents can be knowledgeable and reactive to these circumstances. At school, there should be an established system for a child to report bullying behaviors (anonymously, if needed) and to get immediate help.
Various organizations and advocacy groups recommend:
- Start the conversation by asking your child what bullying means to them and why people bully others. Ask them if they have ever felt bullied, seen someone being bullied, or engaged in bullying (e.g., spread rumors, pushed someone, humiliated them because they think they are strange or different). Show kids that bullying is taken seriously and will not be tolerated.
- Encourage students to speak to a trusted adult if they are bullied or see others being bullied. Help your children identify an adult at school they can speak to, as well.
- Talk about strategies to stand up to kids who bully, and what to do if those actions do not work and when to walk away. Discuss strategies to stay safe, such as staying near adults or groups of other kids.
- Become familiar and participate in the school’s anti-bullying program. This will help you to know the resources available if bullying is identified. If your child’s school has no support system in place your parents’ association should lobby for the school to develop one.
- Schools should have strong repercussions for bullying. Bullying is an illegal offense and there should be zero tolerance for this behavior and a real effort to get to the bottom of the cause, by discussions with the child’s family and the child being essential.
- Get students to engage in activities that empower them to stand up to bullying such as designing slogans and placing them on walls (“It’s wrong to bully others” or “It’s wrong to go along with a bully”) or rewarding students who report bullying.
- Actions against bullying behaviors must be consistent
- Avoid ignoring bullying; blaming the child for being bullied; encouraging them to physically fight back; or contacting the other parents involved. Doing so can make matters worse—allow the school or other officials to act as mediators between parents.
- Model how to treat others with good communications–showing kindness and respect. Our behavior sets an example that is often more impactful than words. The way we manage stress and conflict and treat family, friends, and colleagues will often be mimicked. And, too, families need to examine their family relationships and make sure there is no bullying going on at home
- If your child has been a victim (or the bully), ask the school for a plan in writing as to how the situation is going to be addressed and monitored. Being told that your child is bullying someone can be a “gift”—it alerts us to a behavior that you may not be aware of and need to address.
- Know the warning signs – have there been changes in your child’s attitude? Do they have unexplainable injuries, frequent headaches or stomach aches, changes in eating habits, difficulty sleeping, declining grades, loss of interest in school, loss of friends, lost or destroyed personal items, or decreased self-esteem? Do they avoid social situations? These are only a few of the warning signs that indicate that a child is being bullied and no child shows the same signs. There are also signs that a child is bullying another. Does the child get into a lot of fights or have friends that bully others? Is the child increasingly aggressive or sent to the principal’s office frequently? Does the child blame others for “their” problems, refuse to accept responsibility for actions, or worry about popularity and reputation? These are only a few signs that indicate that a child is engaging in bullying behavior.
Bullying has become a dangerous and even life-threatening epidemic in our nation – it is not just “kids being kids.” Bullying leads to unhealthy outcomes at all grade levels. And, we must all be aware that cyberbullying is becoming more of a problem. While bullying will not easily disappear – with the joint effort of parents, the schools and children, our school, home and community environments can become a healthier, safer experience for everyone to learn and grow. Substantial work remains to be done in the area of prevention. We all must take steps to help remedy this problem and remain vigilant!
Dr. Nina Radcliff is dedicated to her profession, her patients and her community, at large. She is passionate about sharing truths for healthy, balanced living as well as wise preventive health measures.
She completed medical school and residency training at UCLA and has served on the medical faculty at The University of Pennsylvania. She is a Board Certified Anesthesiologist. Author of more than 200 textbook chapters, research articles, medical opinions and reviews; she is often called upon by media to speak on medical, fitness, nutrition, and healthy lifestyle topics impacting our lives, today.