If you’re a parent of a school-aged child, it’s likely that you’ve been affected by bullying.
With approximately 30% of students reporting being bullied and far more being peripherally affected or even traumatized by bullying, it’s a weighing concern on parents’ minds.
I often will meet parents when I’m out at a party or on a long flight who, when they hear that I’m a bullying-prevention educator, immediately begin to impart their terrible story of childhood trauma and abuse or stories about their kids being bullied in school.
And while just about every parent cares passionately and deeply about ending bullying, most are unsure of what they can do to protect their child.
That’s one of the reasons that I partnered with Everyday Feminism a few months ago to facilitate a free webinar on how parents can intervene to end bullying.
Knowing that not every parent has an hour to sit down and watch the recording of our webinar, though, I wanted to offer a quick read for parents who are concerned about bullying.
Understanding Modern Bullying
Before parents can effectively intervene when bullying is taking place, it’s important that we understand a few things about the nature of modern bullying.
First, a comprehensive review of the research on bullying from the American Educational Research Association tells us that “bullying is often aimed at specific groups” and is often a direct result of power imbalances.
In short, bullying is primarily a problem of power, not simply random childhood cruelty.
Though not every instance of bullying is directly related to identity, research indicates that it can be important to talk about bullying through the lens of identity.
Second, the nature of bullying has changed tremendously in the last 15 years.
I often have adults say to me, “Man, I was bullied, and I survived! All this coddling isn’t going to help kids toughen up!”
My response is always, “While I’m really sorry that you were bullied, we also need to understand that bullying today isn’t the same thing as bullying when we were young.”
In my own case, I was bullied pretty terribly in my youth.
It got to the point that I felt pretty desperate and even suicidal at times. And this was in a time when I was able to take breaks from the bullying.
You see, when I got home from school, the bullying stopped. And every summer break, I got a two-month reprieve from the bullying behavior. And I barely survived!
Today, with the wide accessibility of cell phones and the Internet, bullying can be near constant.
One of the last things young people with cell phones do before bed and first things they do when waking up is check their phone. If they’re being bullied through Twitter or text, that’s how they will start their day.
The scary thing about cyber bullying is that it never takes a break.
Knowing these two things about bullying will help tremendously as you look for the ways to best support your child and intervene when they are being targeted for bullying.
1. Look for Signs of Bullying
Though it may seem obvious, many of the signs of bullying go unnoticed or written off as moodiness or growing pains.
But there are concrete things that you can look for that will help you to identify when you child is being bullied.
No matter your child’s age, ask yourself these questions:
Has your child…
…stopped doing things that they enjoy?
Students who are being bullied tend to express greater self-consciousness, and as a result, they may suddenly stop doing things they enjoy.
Maybe they’re being mistreated at baseball practice, so they no longer want to play baseball. Maybe they’re being bullied for their interest in Magic the Gathering, so they suddenly stop playing the game that they love.
…expressed a sudden or progressive sad or sullen attitude?
Maybe this is a sign of seasonal affectedness, or maybe this is because the teasing has finally broken through your child’s defenses. Once the poison of bullying gets inside, it often will show up through progressive or sudden sadness.
…expressed a sudden or progressive angry attitude?
Similarly, bullying can also lead to sudden outbursts of anger.
This is important to recognize because it can often end up leading to your child“passing on the hurt” by bullying other people.
For me, I was terrible to my parents and best friends when I was being bullied in middle school.
…expressed sudden or progressive self consciousness about their identity?
Because much bullying is identity-based, it can lead to students feeling more self-conscious about the aspect of their identity that is being targeted.
In the case of heterosexist/homophobic bullying, it can lead targeted kids to express self-consciousness and to project their understandings of heterosexuality in extreme ways.
…been reluctant or afraid to attend school or activities?
Maybe they’re just hitting that time of year when nothing can make them want to go to school, or maybe they’re being mistreated in some way. But sudden reluctance to attend school or activities is a good sign that bullying could be taking place.
If your answer to any of these questions is yes, talk to your child.
The more open and honest you are with them about your concern, the more likely they will be to talk to you about what’s hurting them.
And even if they don’t end up sharing everything with you right then and there, bringing it up helps them understand that they can come to you for help.
2. Engage Your Child’s Digital World
Read the rest at Everyday Feminism.