If you missed my post yesterday, regarding my daughter's experience with an online bully, it was her experience and my dealing with the repercussions that brought this problem more sharply into focus for me. We've all heard about the news stories about children committing suicide or acts of violence because of bullying, but when it strikes at home, it's impossible to dismiss as just another sad news story.
I was lucky. My daughter is a tough cookie and had the support and background to handle the situation effectively. But, many kids don't have that sense of self and many parents don't know how to take a proactive approach to what may become a real life problem somewhere down the road.
What is Bullying?
Bullying isn't just getting beaten up on the playground. Like it or not, did you know these behaviors are bullying, as well?
- Lying to get someone else in trouble
- Threats and name-calling (Intimidation)
- Spreading rumors (Gossip)
- Stealing someone else's belongings
- Deliberately leaving someone out (Exclusion)
- Sexual Harassment
Bullying isn't about a disagreement between friends or classmates. Bullying is about opportunity and an abuse of power. A bully knows how to find situations when there is little or no supervision and when to seek out their victim.
The simple fact is, mold doesn't grow in the light of day and bullying doesn't happen when there are authority figures to stop it.
The other defining factor of bullying is Repetition. The behavior happens more than once or has the potential to happen more than once.
The reality is, telling a child to just "ignore" the bully and walk away isn't always going to be effective. In fact, it's rarely effective. We've all told our kids to ignore someone being mean. Well, the bullies know that game, too. The bully is going to wait their victim out. They will find them alone on the playground, walking home from school, or their Facebook page.
There are three distinct types of bullying.
- Threats of harm
- Inappropriate sexual comments
- Name calling
Let's face we - we all get angry and we all say things we wish later we hadn't said. The difference between an argument or angry exchange and bullying is intent, repetition, and an attempt to use physical or social power to belittle or control another child.
- Deliberately leaving someone out
- Telling other kids not to be friends with the targeted child.
- Spreading rumors about another child.
- Deliberately embarrassing someone in public.
This kind of bullying is very manipulative. In some ways, it's worse than even verbal bullying. This type of behavior systematically isolates and ostracizes the target. Not only are they being bullied, now they feel that there is no one they can confide in or turn to for help. It's harder to "report" this type of bullying, too, because you can't say, "So-and-So hit me." It's more of a he said/she said type of scenario.
Again, you have to closely look at the behavior for that imbalance of power and repetition. If your child is gossiping and repeating mean stories with her friends, or planning a party and making sure that the little girl across the street knows she is not invited, that's not acceptable behavior. It's bullying.
Not everyone has to be or is going to be friends. But, we can across the board expect our children to treat others with basic common courtesy and dignity. If our children fall short, it is up to us to catch it and correct it.
- Tripping or pushing
- Taking or breaking someone belongings
- Making mean or rude hand gestures or faces
- Throwing things at someone
This is the classic behavior we think of when imagine bullying. It's the easiest to spot and the easiest to call out. Most schools have No Bullying policies and physical bullying aspects are easily identified and stopped. In my opinion, it's the first two types of bullying that are harder to catch in action and, so, we must be more aware and sensitive to these types of behaviors.
Cyber-Bullying - A Class of its Own
Cyber-bullying is defined by mean text messages or emails, spreading rumors by emails, texts, or social media sites, or sharing photos or videos, websites, or creating fake social media profiles with an intent to embarrass and humiliate.
Cyber-bullying is a little different, because there is no safe haven away from the pain being inflicted. Cyber-bullying can happen 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It can happen when the target is at home, where they should feel the most safe. Cyber-bullies can remain anonymous, yet spread their messages quickly and effectively to a large audience. That very anonymity makes it easy for people to repost and share with an ever-widening audience, thinking they are being funny and forgetting all about the real-life person at the heart of the attack. And, once these hurtful messages or photos are posted, it can be almost impossible to get them removed.
Kids who are cyber-bullied are more likely to:
- Use alcohol and drugs
- Skip school
- Experience in-person bullying
- Avoid attending school
- Have low grades
- Have lower self-esteem
- Have more health problems
We have to be willing and able to identify bullying behaviors correctly if we are going to be able to stop it and teach better behaviors.
While we hear so much about watching for signs of our children being bullied, I don't think we put enough emphasis on parents to watch for signs that their child may be the one doing the bullying. But, children aren't bullied by ghosts - they are bullied by other children, who have parents and other adults in their lives. If they don't know what to look for, who is going to catch their behavior and teach something better?
Tomorrow: Who is a Bully?