All readers have seen bullying; if not in real life, then in countless movies. All readers have heard the expression “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” and know that it’s a lie.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines bullying 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 inflict harm or distress on the targeted youth including physical, psychological, social or educational harm.”
A new form of bullying called cyberbullying uses social media to hurt others. This type of bullying is different from traditional bullying in that it can be done at any time, often anonymously and spread to a great audience quickly. Girls are at greater risk of being emotionally or cyberbullied. Fifteen percent of high school students are cyberbullied. Boys are at greater risk of physical bullying.
Estimates of traditional bullying at school and cyberbullying range from 18 percent to 31 percent and 7 percent to 15 percent, respectively. Children who only bully are more likely to develop antisocial personality disorder and participate in criminality. Another group has been identified as high risk are the bully/victim. These children experience overall worse outcomes in adulthood such as thoughts of self-harm and suicide, less likely to graduate from high school or more likely to be socially isolated with few or no friends.
Factors that have been found to prevent children from becoming victims, as well as alleviating the adverse effects of bullying, are having some form of caring adult connection. This helps bullies and victims. Having caring friends will protect the victim. Empowering children with better skills to cope with their own feelings related to bullying behavior can be protective.
Children need help to develop a plan. Role playing at home and at school can help children learn how to respond to bullying. One method is as follows: Look directly at the bully and confidently speak to him/her in a firm, loud voice something like, “You don’t scare me” or, “Why are you talking to me?” or role play telling a parent or teacher. Children should know that if they’ve told an adult and nothing was done then tell another adult.
If the child is a victim of cyberbullying, they can do the following: Don’t forward, respond or “like” online content that is harmful to others; keep evidence such as dates, times, descriptions, screen shots, emails or texts; block the cyberbully; or talk to a trusted adult and report bullying to school and/or the police. If any caring adult is concerned about the possibility of suicide, the victim should be evaluated by a mental health professional urgently.
Bullying is a real problem with 1 in 5 to 1 in 6 children being affected. First recognize the problem, then become a caring adult.