By Gail Belsky
Playground taunts and physical threats are nothing new, but until recently, children were usually safe inside their own home. Now, with email, texting and social networking, the harassment and intimidation can happen 24/7 — and anonymously. Here are answers to common questions about bullying and ways to protect your child.
What constitutes bullying?
There are three main types of bullying, according to Dr. Andrea Wiener, a child psychologist and the author of The Best Investment: Unlocking The Secrets of Social Success For Your Child. Physical bullying typically involves hitting, shoving and kicking, and is more common among boys. Social aggression includes alienation, ostracism, deliberate exclusion and spreading of untrue rumors, and is most common among girls. Cyber-bullying happens via social networking sites like Facebook, where kids post harassing comments or embarrassing photos with the intention of hurting someone else.
Why do kids bully?
Bullies come in all shapes and sizes, but the one thing they have in common is a need for power. “Often they are the popular kids that use power to control others,” says Weiner. “They seem to have a strong self-image, but it’s usually the opposite. They use fear because underneath it, they are scared and don’t think highly of themselves.” Bullying behavior can also carry into adulthood, in the form of dating aggression, spousal abuse or workplace harassment.
Who is most at risk?
Bullying victims are often the loners, according to Dr. Weiner — socially withdrawn, passive kids. “They let others be in control,” she says. “They may also have problems that would make them targets of abuse.” In fact, recent research points to children with obesity and food allergies as particular targets for bullying.
How do I know if my child is being bullied?
You’d like to think your child would tell you, but that’s often not the case, according to Weiner. Kids are afraid of being a tattletale or believe that it’s their fault and shy away from telling; so if you suspect your child to be the victim of bullying, don’t ask him directly. Instead, use indirect questions like, ‘How do you spend your recess time?’ or ‘What’s it like walking to school or being on the school bus?” Also, children often show their distress even if they don’t talk about it. “Signs of being bullied may include reluctance to go to school, sleep disturbances and vague physical complaints such as stomach pains or headaches,” says Weiner. “Look for unexplained belongings that are missing or clothes that are ripped.”
What should I do if I suspect bullying?
Go straight to school and report your suspicions. Most schools have adopted a no-bullying policy and take it seriously. Find out if your child’s teachers have observed anything and ask them to watch your child’s interactions with other students, suggests Weiner. Share with them what you’ve noticed at home and anything your child may have said. Then follow up and make sure that either the teachers or school administrators are taking steps to address the problem. With childhood bullying, the only people with the power to stop it are the adults.
Gail Belsky is the managing editor of Your Family Today. She has worked on a variety of women’s publications, including Parents, Working Mother and All You, and she recently wrote a book for women, entitled The List: 100 Ways to Shake Up Your Life.
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