Tag Bullying

What Can Be Done About Bullying?

bullying2I’d like to address the topic question in four ways: (1) What school districts can do. (2) Things parents can do to inoculate their kids from bullying. (3) Steps to take when bullying happens and (4) Other tips.

What School Districts Can Do

Every school district should have an anti-bullying program. In this downloadable article, published in the American Psychologist, Dr. Catherine Bradshaw, of John Hopkins University, outlines the science on effective bullying prevention programs. I would suggest that this is a very helpful article for school administrators. Were I such an administrator I’d read this article, asking myself, “how does our bullying prevention program stack up?” And, “are there things we can do to improve what we do?”

Inoculating a Kid from Bullying

Kids who have well formed self-esteem seem to experience less bullying. According to research done by Dr. Chris Mruk, of Bowling Green State University, there appear to be two elements comprising self-esteem: a sense of worthiness and a sense of competence. I would argue that one way parents can promote worthiness is by doing special time each week. You can download a brief article on how to do special time here; or, see Chapter One of dance, coolmy parenting book for a more thorough review of the rationale and method. To learn about promoting competence, see Chapter Two of my parenting book, or enter the word “competence” in the search bar above for several brief blog posts on the topic.

What if My Kid is Bullied

This needs immediate action. The first thing to ascertain is whether you can have a productive discussion with the bullying kid’s parent(s). If there is a reasonable chance that that could be effective, I’d try that first. If not, or that fails, it would be time to have a discussion with the school principal, especially if the bullying has happened on school grounds (but even if it doesn’t). Principals, for instance, can make it more clear to the kid doing the bullying that he will face serious consequences if the behavior persists. Other things to do:

  • Coach your kid to travel from place-to-place at school with one or more friends. It’s harder to get picked on when you’re in a group.
  • Arrange for a sleep-over or party at your house, even considering inviting the kid who is doing the bullying, if things haven’t escalated too much that is. The more successful your kid’s social network is the better.
  • Double down on the self-esteem promoting interventions I reviewed in the previous section.
  • Seek out an evaluation from a good child mental health professional. This is not something I would wait on. As I reviewed in last week’s blog article, the stakes are just too high. For a referral, click here.

character raising hand in a crowdOther Tips

√ Partnering with your local PTA can be a very helpful step. They can help you to develop strategies as well as partner with the school about bullying prevention programming, including bringing in a speaker for the kids.

√ Talking with the parents of your kid’s friends can sometimes be a good idea, as they are in a position to coach their kids on how to be helpful.

√ If your kid is bullied online, consider becoming more engaged with him about his online presence (you can find information about this in the monitoring chapter of my parenting book and scattered throughout this blog site.)

√ Even if your kid isn’t a victim of bullying, I’d bring up the topic. You might ask:

  • What has he witnessed?
  • What has she experienced?
  • What are his thoughts about bullying?
  • What can she do if she witnesses it?
  • Does he have any ideas about how to promote an anti-bullying climate at school?

√ Finally, there are a plethora of good bullying resources you can find on the internet. It’s not hard to find them, just be sure that the website belongs to a reputable organization or authority.

Good luck!

Bullying: Research Review

bullyingThe flagship journal of the American Psychological Association is The American Psychologist. The May-June 2015 edition focuses on school bullying and victimization. The first article, written by Drs. Shelley Hymel and Susan Swearer, reviews four decades of research on this topic. Key elements of bullying are stated to include “…intentionality, repetition, and an imbalance of power, with abuse of power being a primary distinction between bullying and other forms of aggression.” Other key findings indicated by these authors:

  • 10 to 33% of students report being a victim of bullying.
  • 5 to 15% of students report bullying other students.
  • Rates of bullying appear to be on a slight decline.
  • When the source of information are teachers and peers, victimization by bullying is more stable (i.e., the same kids being bullied over time) than when kids self-report.
  • Being the victim of bullying is less stable among younger (i.e., elementary age) than older kids (i.e., middle school age).
  • Boys tend to experience more physical bullying while girls tend to experience more relational bullying.
  • There are subtypes of bullies. Some are estranged and on the social fringes while others are socially engaged and socially intelligent, perhaps using bullying behaviors to maintain their social status.

In the same edition of this journal Drs. Patricia McDougall and Tracy Vaillancourt reviewed the research on the impact of peer victimization. These are some of the key outcomes that have been associated with being the victim of sustained bullying:

  • Lower levels of academic achievement, more negative attitudes and bullying4expectations about school and lower rates of going to college.
  • More physical symptoms, including headaches.
  • Biological processes associated with poor stress coping and traumatic experiences.
  • Being less socially competent and successful.
  • Viewing oneself as to blame for the bullying
  • A variety of what are called “internalizing symptoms” (e.g., feeling lonely, anxious and depressed).
  • Several kinds of what are called “externalizing symptoms” (e.g., being aggressive, breaking rules).
  • Increased risk for suicidal thinking and attempts.
  • Numerous negative adult outcomes.stop2

Clearly, the research indicates that bullying is a prevalent problem that causes significant negative outcomes. In next week’s entry I’ll review some strategies for minimizing the occurrence and impact of bullying.

Avoiding and Responding to Cyberbullying

cyber bullying Cyberbullying is bullying delivered through an electronic venue. According to the most recent research sited by the Cyberbullying Research Center, 40% of kids report having been a victim of cyberbullying over the course of their lifetime while 20% say they have perpetrated such. Moreover, a 2011 national survey sponsored by the Center for Disease Control found that 16% of high school students reported having been electronically bullied in the past year. The effects of cyberbullying on kids can be devastating. For instance, and according to stopbullying.gov, these can include substance abuse, truancy, school refusal, experiencing in-person bullying, a decline in grades and damage to self-esteem. This entry is designed to give parents six tips for both avoiding and responding to cyberbullying.

To avoid cyberbullying

• Spend one hour a week doing “special time.” This facilitates an open channel of communication about current events. Click here to download a handout on how to do special time. (I also explain the exercise more fully in the first chapter of my parenting book.)

• Put age-appropriate controls on internet technology. For a blog article on some strategies click here (or see Chapter Three in my parenting book).

• Intermittingly monitor your kids online communications. This is a complicated topic that is best summarized by describing the ends of the continuum. Too little monitoring risks leaving your kid walking in mine fields. Too much monitoring risks quashing independence and effective social engagement. It is the shifting middle ground where the most effective parenting strategy resides. Regardless of where you place yourself on this continuum, let your progeny know that you reserve the right to inspect any of his or her hard drives, cell phones, internet pages or electronic storage devices whenever you wish. It is this sense that mom or dad could find out that leaves a kid thinking three times about doing something risky or objectionable.R1

• Ask you child if s/he is aware of examples of cyberbullying, exploring her/his perceptions. You will likely be more effective in making your points if you share your opinions last, affirm what you like about your kid’s perspectives and end your sentences with question marks whenever possible (e.g., “what do you think it would be like to have several people laugh about your looks online?”).

• Promote adaptive and regular social contact with kids who seem to be doing well. Sitting on the fringes of the herd makes a kid more vulnerable to attack. Moreover, kids who are effectively engaged with successful peers are less likely to fall victim to an assortment of maladies.

• Limit access to sedentary electronic pleasures to two hours a day. This is a recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics. It makes sense because if a kid is plugged in more than this each day s/he is probably shorting other important developmental needs (e.g., to be physically active, to invest sufficiently in academics).

Responding to cyberbullying

cyberbullying2• Make a plan for involving others. If your child is being bullied decide whether it’s best to approach a trusted school official, the parent(s) of the perpetrator(s), a clergy person, some other relevant trusted adults or a combination of the above. In these discussions consider whether there is value in letting the owner of the electronic venue know about the bullying (i.e., a growing number of states have laws prohibiting this behavior). The goal here is to find the most effective and kind way to have the bullying stop.

• Seriously consider seeking out the services of a qualified mental health professional. Being the victim of bullying can be a symptom of a compromised standing with peers. Moreover, and as I indicated above, being the victim of bullying can be devastating. Also, perpetrators of cyberbullying may likewise be hurting and stand to benefit from mental health services. Seeking out this assistance stands to do a world of good. For a referral, click here.

• Keep an eye open for some of the symptoms indicated above. If you see any, quadruple the importance of the preceding recommendation.

• Let your child know that you have his or her back 100%. This means being an empathic sounding board for painful feelings (which is very difficult to do given how much our kid’s pain hurts us), affirming his or her strengths, and staying active in solving the problem.

• If your child has witnessed cyberbullying, consider with him or her, how to let others (i.e., parents and school officials) know about this. This might range from a direct report to an anonymous note. (Services are also cropping up that allow students to make anonymous reports about bullying. For instance see “Talk About it.”

• If the cyberbullying does not stop after your initial round of interventions, legal booksconsider consulting an attorney and/or law enforcement official. In this scenario I would also do a serious pro-con analysis on eliminating, or seriously restricting, your child’s access to the technology where the cyberbullying is occurring.

If you are interested in learning more about this topic, click on the first two links in this post.

Strategies if Your Child or Teen is Being Bullied

Your child reporting that he or she is being bullied can be very upsetting. According to the Center for Disease Control, 19% of kids are victims of bulling on school grounds. Bullying can include physical and/or verbal confrontation, social exclusion and spreading harsh rumors; it can also occur through electronic and online technologies. Available evidence suggests that those who experience a pattern of being bullied experience significant mental health challenges (the same is often true among those who engage in a pattern of bullying). Among the children who are bullied low self-esteem and under socialization are common. In the animal kingdom predators prey on vulnerable members of the herd who can be found on the fringes or in isolation. This is often the case for children who are repeatedly bullied as well. If your child is experiencing a pattern of being bullied, or if any incidents of bullying are causing him or her distress, consider the following:

  1. Get expert assistance. An evaluation by a well qualified child mental health professional is usually a good idea, even if you are able to get the bullying to stop by other means. It is much better to understand any contributing problems, and to develop a plan for managing or fixing them, than it is to let a child or teen languish. To find a qualified professional near you click here.
  2. Consult with the school about the bullying. I’ve never met a teacher or school administrator who is willing to tolerate bullying. It is ideal to have this consultation with a child mental health professional at your side. The consultation can be used to reach a clear understanding about what has happened and to develop a plan for fixing things.
  3. Encourage your child or teen to travel with at least one friend as she or he travels from one location to another at school. As I implied above, bullying is much more likely to occur when a child or teen iis traveling solo. This step might involve inviting prospective friends over to your house in order to develop or to create friendships. If your child or teen cannot, or will not, name friend candidates her or his teacher(s) may be willing to do so.
  4. If your child or teen is a victim of cyber bullying consider first whether his or her online life is adaptive (please see my blog entries that cover monitoring online activity and internet addiction to help in this determination).
  5. If you know the parents of the alleged bully, and you have no clear reason to believe that they would be hostile, consider arranging to have them over to your home to discuss what everyone can to do garner wellness and peace. (In many instances it may be better to do #1 before this one so that a qualified mental health professional can help you to think through the issues, including how you want to manage the meeting.)
  6. If your child has not discovered things that he or she is good at, or does not have regular access to activities that put such talents on display, I would make changing this a top priority. Please see Chapter Two of my book Working Parents, Thriving Families, to read about specific strategies for pulling this off.

Here also are three strategies that often are not advisable. Keep in mind that even a broken clock is right twice a day. So, just about any strategy has some chance of working. But, I am suggesting that the odds of the following working, independent of significant negative side effects, are probably low:

  1. Encouraging a child to be physically aggressive. Yes, there is reason to believe that assaulting a bully might cause him or her to retreat. But this teaches all sorts of unsavory lessons, risks school disciplinary action and can be excruciatingly difficulty for a child or teen to pull off.
  2. Succumbing to your child’s or teen’s plea for you to do nothing. If your child told you that mold was growing in his or her locker at school and you could tell that this was making him or her sick, would you adhere to his or her begging to not take action? Keep in mind that any number of different kinds of action may be in order (see above). What I believe is generally more advisable is to find out what your child or teen reasonably fears could happen if you initiated a plan for fixing the problem (e.g., retaliation by the bully, someone finding out that he or she is in counseling). You might then take steps to make the odds of such happening remote. (A consultation with a mental health professional is especially advisable if your child is insistent along these lines.)
  3. To view the problem as completely resolved if the only change the occurs is that a pattern of bullying stops. I think it is very important to a child’s or teen’s wellness to take steps to understand and to resolve the underlying issues that caused such a painful cycle to begin.
%d bloggers like this: