Every parent wants the best for their child. And as many parents reflect on their own childhoods, it’s easy to notice some very obvious differences in the way kids grow up today.
While many of those differences are positive, like greater access to the world, medicine, technology, and instant communication; some of the differences are troublesome.
Technological advances and the evolution of a “constant contact” culture have created an environment where today’s children are also subjected to ever increasing social pressures and an early exposure to mature and complex information.
This has created an environment where children are more likely to form hierarchical groups where there are clear winners and obvious losers—cultivating the perfect environments for bullying.
And what exactly is bullying?
Simply put, bullying is unwanted, aggressive behaviour that instills or enforces a real or perceived power imbalance between 2 or more people. Bullying commonly includes threats, defamatory rumours, harassment, and ostracism. It can also include physical violence and property damage.
And while the phenomenon is nothing new, children are often unable to find relief from today’s bullying. Constant access to social media, text messaging, and other communication apps means that bullying doesn’t stop when kids leave school—it follows them into their homes and haunts them in their sleep.
This type of bullying is commonly referred to as cyberbullying and it affects as many of 20% of Australian children. In fact, the Internet and mobile technologies are becoming the most prevalent tools for bullying.
And a survey found that as compared to 40 other countries, students in Australian primary schools experience some of the highest reported incidents of bullying with 25% of students between 8 and 14 years being bullied at least every few weeks.
In that age range, the highest prevalence of bullying occurs with 10 and 11 year olds – 33% of them report regular bullying.
This problem is further exacerbated as children are often left without allies and forced to deal with bullying on their own. Research shows that in 87% of bullying interactions, peers are present as onlookers and even play a key role in the bullying process.
And bullying has consequences. Students who are bullied are more likely to:
- Not like school and have lower academic outcomes
- Lack quality childhood relationships
- Display low levels of self-esteem and resilience
- Suffer from depression and anxiety
- Experience nightmares and night terrors
- Have an increased risk for substance abuse and suicide
How Parents Can Help
Know the Signs
Parents are a key line of defense in helping children overcome bullying. But before you can help, you have to understand the signs. Keep on the lookout for:
- Sudden changes in your child (eating habits, sleeping habits, etc.)
- Unexplained injuries
- Lost or damaged clothing, books, and other personal items
- Frequent illness
- Declining academic performance
- Decreased self-esteem
- Self-destructive behaviours
And don’t feel discouraged if your child doesn’t come to you to report bullying issues. Recent statistics show that kids only report bullying about 40% of the time.
There are many reasons that children keep bullying to themselves and these reasons are not necessarily reflective of their parents or home environment. They might feel helpless or fear backlash from their peers. They also could feel embarrassed.
Talk to Your Kids
Knowing that your child might not come to you, you must be prepared to talk to your child about bullying.
If you know or think that your child is being bullied, it is important to talk to him or her. Ask them about the event and try to understand the context and background of the issue. Having a solid understanding of the issue is important and will help you further address the problem with your child’s school.
Once you determine that your child is truly a victim of bullying, it is important that you create an environment of trust, and make sure he or she knows that you are going to support them and help them overcome the issue.
Additionally, reinforce that the bullying is not your child’s fault, and that perhaps the bully is having difficulties of their own—it’s important for your child to recognise that the issue is external, and not to do with them. Show empathy, reflecting that it’s okay to feel upset, and the low feelings are understandable.
Talk to the School
After talking to your child and getting all the details, follow-up with the school. Make sure that the school understands the incident, and work with school officials to address the problem.
It is also important to understand any anti-bullying laws or ordinances that are present in your state or community. If there are regulations that require specific actions from your child’s school, make sure that you hold the institution accountable and ensure that they follow-through with their lawful obligations in addressing the bullying issue.
Not only will this be beneficial to your child’s situation, but also future incidents. It’s a matter of protecting kids from this unwanted and undeserved behaviour.
Establishing and maintaining a strong support network is important for anyone, but can be especially helpful when overcoming bullying. Encourage your child to invite friends over, catch up with friends and take opportunities to make new connections outside of school. For example, you can suggest joining a local club, playing a new team sport or taking a new class.
This can help to improve self-esteem and confidence, allowing your child to engage in positive relationships that lift them, rather than bring them down.
Suggest counseling or speaking to another (neutral) trusted adult about the issue in case they want further support. Always refinforce that there is plenty of support available.
Keeping strong bonds of trust with your child is essential in helping them overcome bullying. Make sure to follow-up with them even as you work with the school in resolving the issue. It is just as important to continue to follow-up and keep open lines of communication with your child even after you feel that the bullying issue has been resolved.
Giving your child a refuge and an ally in their bullying issues will help your child re-establish confidence and resilience in dealing with the problem.