I remember in school seeing other kids in class get picked on relentlessly. It seemed like every year there was a class bully who would push you off the slide or steal your lunch money on a daily basis. He or she would always get in trouble, always be sent to the principle… only for it to be worse the next day.
My friends and I would try to stick up for the kid getting picked on, but nothing ever seemed to stop the bullying from happening. Back in those days it almost seemed to be accepted as just “kids being kids.” But now that we have all grown up we see the long term effects that bullying had on all of us as children. We see that even decades later some of those who were bullied as children struggle with their health as adults – often still having anxiety, depression, and social problems.
A bully’s cruelty can have serious and lasting repercussions not just on the target, but also on the bully and witnesses. “Depression, anxiety, peer problems, and academic problems are all associated with bullying, both in the short term and in the long term,” says Elizabeth Englander, PhD, professor of psychology at Bridgewater State University, and director of the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center.
As a parent I was super worried about my children having to deal with this same sort of behavior, and I began at a very young age talking about bullying. I wanted them to understand how important it was to treat everyone with kindness, and to absolutely never lash out and hit or kick someone ever – especially not in anger.
The thing is, bullying used to be mostly physical – but with society as it is and social media bringing it into our homes, more and more children are becoming the victims of bullying. In fact, almost a third of 6th through 12th graders say they have been a victim of bullying, many of them staying silent and not telling their family or others about the bullying.
Honestly, this absolutely terrifies me.
I’ve read that some cases of bullying affected children even more than child abuse, which is shocking. I am not only worried about my own children, but for children in general. Teen suicide rates have increased dramatically over the last few years, and every instance seems to stem from bullying.
Both bullying and what the study authors call “maltreatment,” or abuse, can result in long-term mental health problems, and in many cases may be on a par with one another. But the study also found that bullying can be worse than abuse in some cases.
What can a parent do?
Organizations are sprouting up all over the world to help stop or prevent bullying now that we know just how detrimental it can be to our health. One of my favorite resources, YourCareEverywhere, has articles to help both parents and children learn the signs of bullying and to gain strategies to overcome the problem.
I think as parents we have a big responsibility to make sure our children are not being bullied – but also not being bullies as well. Reading through their articles on bullying I recognized some of the signs in my own children – even as cautious as I have been to try to avoid it. I have also had to take a close look at my own behavior, and how my children may be seeing me behave or talk to and about others. It was certainly eye-opening.
One of the things I thought was really important was that if you discover that your child is actually the one being the bully, that it does not necessarily mean that you have done something wrong as a parent. I think a lot of times we may miss signs of bullying for fear of what we might learn. That we may feel like failures as parents, when in fact, the bullying may be a cry for help and an opportunity for you to grow closer to your child as you help them make better choices – leading to a happier, more successful future.
The news that your child is the bully can be even harder to take. Yet it doesn’t mean you — or your child — is a failure, Englander says. “Many children try out bullying to see if it gets them ahead socially.” A child might be lashing out because she’s stressed out at school, or she’s recently gained weight and is self-conscious about it. Steer her in healthier directions, like sports or an after-school club. And if she still needs extra help, talk to her pediatrician and make an appointment with a therapist or counselor.
The last thing that really stood out to me was talking about how important it is to take action when you see bullying happening. As I was reading I was remembering being that child on the playground who would see other kids getting harassed, and while I may have said something once or twice, there was probably much more that I could have done to help. “You can’t be an innocent bystander even though you’re not being bullied or are not the bully,” Englander added. Bystanders actually hold the key to putting an end to bullying by refusing to behave passively, which gives a bully an audience and tacit approval.
What can a parent do?
Bullying and mental health is important to absolutely everyone – and whether you are a parent with the responsibility of raising healthy, successful children or simply trying to live your own very best life, YourCareEverywhere can help you to do just that.
YourCareUniverse, Inc. All rights reserved. Information from YourCareEverywhere does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. See a certified medical professional for diagnosis and treatment. Individual treatment, diet, and exercise results may vary.