Bullying, verbal- and physical harassment. What is it? Why does it happen? How to deal with it?
Bullying has been taking place from generation to generation. Bullying isn’t something new and in the digital age bullying has evolved even further, making it easier for bullies to manipulate their victims. As parents we always want our children to be happy and safe, especially in educational environments like school. However, sometimes bullying happens, therefore parents need to know what to do. Walt Disney once said, “Our greatest natural resource is the minds of our children.” We believe parents should take action to protect their children against all harm to ensure healthy, growing minds.
In this article we discuss the following aspects revolving bullying:
What is bullyingThe result of bullyingWhy bullying happensWhat to do when your child is being bullied
What is bullying
Bullying is defined as the use of superior strength or influence to intimidate a person. Usually this results in forcing the victim to do something that they don’t want to do, causing the victim pain, injury and/or distress. Bullying in school is harmful to students’ well-being and their development, because the victims of bullies in school are fearful, lose concentration and might even have physical injury if not treated.
According to www.stopbullying.gov there are three types of bullying, namely, verbal bullying, social bullying and physical bullying. Verbal bullying includes malicious acts such as teasing, name-calling threatening and inappropriate comments. Social bullying includes nasty attempts to destroy someone’s reputation or credibility. This includes spreading rumours, embarrassing the victim, or intimidating someone not to be friends with the victim. Physical bullying is the act of hurting the victim’s body or possessions, through pushing, breaking, kicking, spitting or making rude hand gestures.
All types of bullying is equally damaging to the victim and shouldn’t be taken lightly.
The result of bullying
The result of being bullied as a child can be very severe. The following are examples, based on past studies, of what can happen when a child is bullied:
- A decline in the victim’s performance in activities that he/she loved to do.
- The victim has increased anxiety and stress-levels.
- The victim becomes isolated as a result of distrust in people.
- Loss in confidence and self-esteem.
- Psychological damage growing up and becoming a dysfunctional adult.
- Worst case scenario, bullying can lead to suicide. This is every parent’s nightmare and we want to prevent this at all costs.
Bullying is never acceptable. In order to prevent bullying, we need to understand why it is happening.
Why bullying happens
Bullying happens as a result of many factors and no one child is like another, each grow up in different environments, different households and backgrounds. However, bullying as a result of circumstance is never acceptable. Therefore, we want to break down a few common factors why children start bullying others.
Having low self-esteem
Children; and people in general; with low self-esteem usually attempt to bring others down. This is as a result of jealousy and insecurity. To understand more about jealousy, read our blog, ‘Understanding and overcoming jealousy from peers.’ To understand more about developing a healthy self-esteem, read our blog ‘How to develop a healthy sense of self-esteem.’ When children have a lack of self-esteem they try to impress their friends by bringing others down. They feel the need to impress their peers, but the only way they know how is to make their victims feel worse than what they are feeling.
When children feel powerless, because of factors bigger than themselves, like financial pressure at home, conflict between parents, underperformance in school activities, they themselves might be bullied, etc. they tend to act out. This means they project their frustration and fear onto others in an aggressive way without thinking about the consequences. These powerless children have no understanding of coping with frustration, anxiety, stress and conflict, because they have never been taught how to deal with it. We suggest consulting with a school psychologist to help manage stress, fear and anxiety.
Pressure to bully
When children observe their friends bullying a victim, they might join in, because they are either afraid of being bullied themselves, or they are afraid of being left out of the friend group. This is peer pressure to bully. These bullies feel it is necessary to bully to stay part of the friend group, even if they know it is wrong.
Lack of accountability
Often children who bullies have never faced true consequences for their actions. They might have done something similar but to a minor degree, or they didn’t get caught, therefore they didn’t get into trouble. Now they keep pushing the limits to see with what else they can get away with, without getting caught.
So, what happens when you find out your child is being bullied? What can you, as a parent, do?
What to do when your child is being bullied
The best way to protect your child from bullying is to teach them about bullying from an early age. When a child knows how to identify bullying early on they can speak up, get an authority figure involved and solve the problem at the beginning stages.
However, what if your child is currently being bullied? Here are our recommendations*:
Take immediate action.
Many parents might want to stay out of it or let the kids sort themselves out, but this is the wrong approach. Your children need to know you are there for them and that you will protect them. When you first pick up signs of distress or a change in your children’s character, speak with your children and find out if there is bullying involved. If they tell you that there is someone at school bullying them, approach the situation calmly and assure them that you will help them handle it. Find out how severe the bullying is and understand why it happened. Ask your child if they did anything to provoke the other child or even if your child hurt the other kid first. We want to emphasise the fact that your child needs to tell the truth and not just seek attention to accuse another child falsely, because if start countering bullying and your child falsely accused a child, your credibility will be on the line.
However, if you established that this is pure bullying and that your child is truly the victim of another child’s aggression, then proceed to take further steps.
Speak to the school.
The first step is to inform the school. Most schools have anti-bullying strategies; however, it might not always be effective. Very often bullying can happen on school grounds without teachers knowing. Therefore, you need to inform the principal and your child’s teachers about the situation. Write a formal letter explaining who the bully is, how your child is being bullied and why the teachers need to be concerned. You can also make an appointment with a teacher, but make sure you give them an explanation in writing (either electronically or by hand). This serves as proof that they are now informed. Tell the teacher and principal that they need to investigate the bullying and to stop any further bullying that takes place on their grounds. This way the people who is supposed to ensure the safety of your child cannot ignore the problem anymore.
If the bullying was very severe and you need to raise the urgency, get a lawyer to send this letter so that the school knows how urgent the situation is. Also document any physical abuse by photograph, if there were any, and if your child has undergone emotional trauma, seek the help of psychologist or therapist.
Send the message loud and clear.
The second step is to inform the bully’s parents of the situation and let them know how important it is for them to hold their child accountable. This can be done by informing them that you will take legal action if the bullying doesn’t stop immediately. Emphasise the fact that if the bullying doesn’t stop you will get law enforcement involved. Let them know the school is aware of the situation and there will be severe consequences if their child doesn’t stop. There’s and anonymous quote that says “It’s about showing you how to hold bullies and in some cases their parents, responsible and accountable.”
By now, the school and the parents of the bully are aware of the situation. Along with the threat of involving legal officials, the bully should feel a lot of pressure to stop the bullying. Normally, when a bully feels that the weight of their consequences (like being expelled from school or even a criminal record if there were severe physical bullying) is much greater than the pleasure they get out of bullying, they will stop.
What if the bullying doesn’t stop?
This is one of a parent’s biggest fears, “What if I tried speaking to the teachers and the bully’s parents and the bullying still continues?” Well, then you have to hire a lawyer and file a lawsuit. This is a painful process, but the safety of your child will depend on it. Rather be the parent to upset a few people than having to deal later with bigger consequences – for example your child might develop psychological damage or depression or in extreme cases the loss of your child as a result of suicide. Your lawyer will help you take the further required actions.
Your actions can change the whole school.
The second that one bully is successfully stopped, there is a fantastic transformation in the way that schools are run. Teachers will be more vigilant, bullies will think twice before they target or hurt other children and children who were also bullied might finally have the guts to stand up to their own bullies. Don’t be afraid to be the parent that took a stand against bullies, it is in the best interest of all children in the school.
We want to encourage all parents who are dealing with issues where their children are being bullied. Stay strong and protect your children. There’s is an anonymous quote that says: “Bullying is not a reflection of the victim’s character, but rather a sign of the bully’s lack of character.” Remind your children that a bully’s action isn’t their fault, it is always the bully’s fault. Help your children overcome these situations and rise above the circumstances.
*ASP School Projects’ advice is not to be seen as legal counsel, but mere suggestions to parents. If bullying is severe we recommend contacting authorities or the Child Helpline via telephone on 08000 55 555.