Twelve-year-old Mallory Grossman of Rockaway Township, New Jersey, was a quiet girl, but popular among her close circle of friends. She was a good student and an athlete. She was also the victim of malicious bullying by a group of girls who tormented her at school and via texting and social media. Sadly, the bully girls even chided in a text, “Why don’t you kill yourself?” Tragically, on June 14, 2017, that’s exactly what happened. Mallory ended her torment by taking her own life.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, approximately one in five kids ages 12 to 18 has experienced being bullied in a given year. And according to the National Bullying Prevention Center, the incidents are even greater among children with disabilities. One study shows that 60 percent of students with disabilities report being bullied regularly. Such bullying ranges from name calling and spreading rumors to destruction of property, threats, and violence.
Studies have found bullying has health and psychological repercussions – and the effects can last into adulthood. The victims of childhood bullying, as well as bully-victims (those who are both bullied and bully others), according to a 2013 report in Psychological Science journal, are “at increased risk of poor health, wealth, and social-relationship outcomes in adulthood.” Pure bullies (those who bully but are not victims), weren’t found to be at increased risk.
Bullying versus conflict
For parents and educators to effectively address bullying, we must first understand what constitutes bullying. When we see it, we often don’t recognize it because from the outside it looks like conflict. In fact, it often is nothing more than conflict. In the heat of the moment; kids, like adults, can say and do mean things to each other. That in and of itself doesn’t constitute bullying. Because parents and teachers are aware of this, it’s sometimes easy to dismiss a child’s complaints about being harassed as nothing more than a spat. So here are some questions to help determine which it is.
Do both children have equal power? If so, it’s conflict. In bullying, the bully has more power, or more perceived power.
Are both children able to express their concerns or views? Or is one child passive or unable to express her side for some reason?
Does the behavior stop when the antagonizing child recognizes he’s hurting another? Or does the aggressor continue while being fully aware of the effects of his behavior?
What is bullying?
Bullying is repeated acts by an individual or a group with the intent to scare, distress, or cause harm to another. It differs from simply disliking or rejecting another, experiencing mutual conflict, or a single-episode mean-spirited act.
Bullying behaviors include any of the following:
· Hostile or discriminatory behavior based on race, religion, gender, disability or sexual orientation
· Cyber bullying, which is the use of social media, websites, instant messaging, or texting via smartphones or computers to harass or harm another
· Causing physical harm by hitting, kicking, shoving or destroying property
· Social bullying such as spreading malicious rumors, damaging someone’s reputation, encouraging others to gang up on someone, or playing mean or embarrassing jokes
· Verbal bullying, which includes name calling, intimidating, or insulting another
Kids keep it a secret
Often, children don’t tell when they’re being bullied. As a result, the bullying persists for months or longer and becomes increasingly more damaging. There are multiple reasons kids might not tell an adult.
· Perhaps a child has been threatened with repercussions if they tell, or the child fears the threat will become greater if they tell.
· They don’t want to be a tattle tale, something kids have been taught not to do and don’t always understand the difference in tattling for unimportant matters versus more serious issues.
· Children often feel ashamed or embarrassed either about being a victim of bullying or about the reason they’re being bullied. This is often the case when the bully has used name-calling or character attacks.
· They feel they either won’t be believed or that adults won’t do anything about it.
Signs of bullying
There are several signs to be aware of that might indicate your child is being bullied.
· Frequently tries to get out of going to school or declining grades
· Complaints of stomachaches and headaches
· Feeling sad or upset
· Social withdrawal
· Difficulty sleeping
· Asking whether something derogatory someone said about your child is true or other signs of decreased self-esteem
· Unexplained bruises or abrasions
· Clothing, electronics or other belongings missing or damaged
· Seeming anxious or sad after being on social media
· Changes in eating habits whether lack of appetite, binge eating, or not eating lunch at school
· Self-harming or talk of suicide
Signs that might indicate your child is a bully include:
· Hanging out with other kids who are aggressive or bully others
· Not taking responsibility for their own actions
· Excludes certain kids from activities
· Frequently getting into trouble at school
· Expresses intolerance toward kids who are different
· Makes fun of other kids
· Brings home items such as electronics, clothes, or money
· Hurts animals
· Has experienced or witnessed domestic violence
· Is overly concerned about being popular
How to prevent or put a stop to bullying
First and foremost, talk to your kids about bullying so they understand what it is and that it’s unacceptable. Make sure your kids understand it’s imperative they tell an adult if they or someone they know is being bullied. Rather than waiting for it to occur multiple times, your child should tell a teacher or parent immediately so the bully doesn’t have the opportunity to gain power.
Also look into your child’s school policies on bullying, and find out what kind of preventive measures the school takes and how it handles bullying when it occurs. If the school doesn’t have a bullying prevention program, ask it to develop and implement one.
Monitor your kids activity online including their social media. There are many reasons to do this for your child’s safety. To ensure your child is neither being bullied or acting as a bully is one more big reason.
Model the kind of behavior you expect from your kids. When kids overhear their parents talking negatively about people because of their weight or joking about someone who’s different or has a disability, kids tend to model this behavior and are more likely to take it to an extreme.
Take time every day to talk with your child and ask how their day was. Kids who bully are often not getting the attention they need at home. Children who are being bullied may feel they deserve the treatment or that their parents wouldn’t care or wouldn’t act on it.
Teach your kids to stand up for themselves. If your child remains passive, a bully will up the ante and gradually become more abusive. But if your child assertively and unemotionally stands up to the bully, the bully will realize he won’t get away with the behavior. On the other hand, if a bully knows he’s getting under your child’s skin, the bully will persist. Your child should maintain eye contact, stay calm, maintain appropriate distance, and use the bully’s name while addressing the bully.
Here are some examples of what your child can say:
· You’re being a bully, Kyle. Knock it off.
· Okay. Whatever, Sara.
· I’m sure you think you’re really funny, Joey, but really, you’re not.
· Amanda, do you really think I care?
· Nice try, Christa.
Notice all of these are simple, direct unemotional responses that let the bully know he isn’t getting under your child’s skin. Your child should practice one or two of these or come up with his or her own ideas that feel comfortable. The idea is to not say anything that gives the bully power such as a compliment or that indicates it bothers your child.
If your child is being bullied, also talk to your child’s teachers, school administrators, bus driver, and others who can help put a stop to the abusive behavior. Make certain your school has a plan in place to protect your child, and if it isn’t doing enough, contact the district superintendent. If your child has been threatened, contact the police immediately. Finally, if the bullying doesn’t cease, proceed by filing charges through your school board and local police department.
Resources for Bullying Impacting Youth with Disabilities
According to StopBullying.gov, children with disabilities—such as physical, developmental, intellectual, emotional, and sensory disabilities—are at an increased risk of being bullied. Read their article “Bullying and Youth with Disabilities and Special Health Needs” for detailed information.
Also check out #CutTheBull, a campaign founded by actor RJ Mitte, who has cerebral palsy. Read the interview he gave to AmeriDisability, “‘Breaking Bad’ Star, RJ Mitte, is Breaking Disability Barriers.”
Information can also be found on the National Bullying Prevention Center website.
Feature photo credit: Education International