Children who are the target of bullies can suffer serious physical and psychological harm and may experience depression, shame, or other negative emotions as a result of bullying behavior.
The issue of bullying in schools has gained greater attention in recent years, in part because of increased publicity from events like the tragic Columbine shootings. The National Center for Education Statistics reported that in 2007, almost one-third of all students indicated that they had been bullied in some way during the school year. The problem is so widespread and prevalent that many states have passed, or are currently considering laws to protect students in schools against bullying behaviors. Children who are the target of bullies can suffer serious physical and psychological harm and may experience depression, shame, or other negative emotions as a result of bullying behavior. Unfortunately, many victims of bullying do not report the incidents to teachers or parents out of fear of reprisals from the perpetrator, or worry about how these adults will react to the information.
Warning Signs of Bullying
Even when children do not report incidents of bullying, parents can often detect certain telltale signs. Unexplained tears in clothing, scratches or bruises may indicate that the child is experiencing physical abuse at the hands of other students. Some children develop a phobia about going to school, and may experience stomach upsets and nausea due to stress. Other children targeted by bullies may withdraw and exhibit significant changes in behavior. Depression and loss of self-esteem are common symptoms among children who are verbally or physically bullied at school.
What Parents Can Do to Help
Even if no symptoms of bullying are present, parents can help children by opening lines of communication regarding the subject and alleviating any worries the children may have about possible negative responses. Boys who are victims of physical bullying may fear that their parents will regard them as weak or less masculine for failing to defend themselves effectively, while girls may worry that they will be blamed for the incidents or for failing to achieve popularity with their classmates. By expressing empathy and placing the blame for bullying activities on the perpetrators rather than on the victims, parents can establish a supportive environment where children will feel comfortable talking about the subject and can report incidents without fear.
When To Contact The School
Prolonged or serious bullying activities should be reported to school officials for action. Many children are afraid of involving the school’s administration in what they perceive to be a private affair. Fears may include reprisals from the bully or repercussions from other students if the child is identified as the tattletale. As a result, many children will be resistant to reporting incidents of bullying to teachers and administrators. Parents can help to overcome this resistance by talking honestly with the child about likely outcomes and resolutions of the situation and reinforcing that the victim is not to blame for the actions of the bully.
Working With School Administrators
Most schools have policies in place regarding both verbal and physical bullying and are highly motivated to address these issues with parents and students. Zero tolerance policies can often put a stop to the problem immediately; in some cases, however, the process for addressing incidents of bullying may take weeks or months. School officials should be willing to commit to a definite plan of action in order to protect the victim and enforce control over the bully during school hours and after-school activities. Parents should follow up with school officials to ensure that the problem is being addressed and that the bullying has stopped. In cases where the activity continues or has caused serious physical injury, police involvement may be merited in order to address the problem more directly.
Prompt Action Is Required
The negative effects of bullying can persist throughout the victim’s life and can even result in serious psychological problems including post-traumatic stress disorder, poor self-esteem and suicidal tendencies. By working together and acting promptly to stop bullying behavior, parents and schools can provide a safe, nurturing educational environment for all students.