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Bullying: A Guide for the Parents

Warning Signs a Child Is a Victim

Cyberbullying is a relatively new type of bullying characterized by technological modalities, which make it slightly different from traditional bullying. It usually implies the use of various technological devices or services as a bullying instrument. Cyberbullying May be defined as “the use of information and communication technologies (…) to support deliberate, repeated, and hostile behaviour by an individual or group that is intended to harm others” (as cited in Wong-Lo et al., 2011). Despite the distinction between traditional and cyberbullying, it is evident that the common factor is malicious intent.

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In the modern realities of communication becoming more digitized, it is exceptionally important for parents to know of the warning signs to look out for in case their child is being bullied online. The first sign is if a child is feeling uneasy about going to school. It is crucial for parents or guardians to recognize this as a major sign that a child is scared of their school environment. The fact that they are uncomfortable around classmates is concerning since it might imply they are being taunted or bullied via social media. If a child regularly begs to skip classes or come home early, this might be a reason to raise the alarm and question whether they are a victim of bullying, including cyberbullying. The second sign is if kids are visibly upset after going online. The outburst of negative emotions after surfing the Internet is a possible sign of a child being victimized by cyberbullies (Wong-Lo et al., 2011). Sadness and agitation are some of the most common indicators of a child consuming unsettling or downright hurtful content about themselves on the web.

The third warning sign is if a kid tries to isolate themselves and withdraw from social interactions with their classmates or just peers, in general. Wong-Lo et al. (2011) indicate that it is one of the most noticeable reflections that something is wrong. The fact that a kid feels uncomfortable around their peers to the point of limiting interactions with them indicates an issue in communication. If a child only feels safe on their own, this may be an indicator that their interactions with peers are mostly negative, leading to the conclusion that they are bullied.

The fourth sign, deals with academics, specifically the drop in performance and grades. School involvement and academic achievements are some of the primary indicators that a child is successful in their school environment. The negative changes in performance might be a reflection of inner conflicts kids can have. Under the circumstances that everything is going well, one of the child’s main priorities is getting good grades at school, which is manageable if there are few to no outside distractions. Atypically poor performance can thus serve as an indicator that a kid’s attention is focused on something else, possibly hurtful comments online or hateful messages on social media.

The fifth and final sign is the unwillingness of children to discuss their online activity with parents. Although privacy is an integral part of each person’s identity and space, secretiveness regarding the content consumed and the texts sent via a variety of devices might be a source of concern. Children will often feel embarrassed or upset about the instances of cyberbullying they have endured. This might result in them being scared to speak out and share the details of their so-called “online life.” As with any other of the aforementioned signs, parents should pay closer attention if they notice abnormal behavior, often indicating an unfortunate pattern of cyber victimization.

Signs a Child Is a Bully

While the majority of parents are hesitant to admit or even entertain the possibility that their child is a bully, data collected from students and educators suggest that a surprisingly big number of kids are actually the perpetrators of bullying. While around 1 in 5 elementary school students is a victim of bullying, about the same amount are bullies (Robison, 2010). In middle school and high school, between grades 6 and 10, 19% of students report instances of bullying others, 17% of students admit they have been victims of bullying at some point, while 6% display the qualities of both the victim and the bully, according to a study cited in Robison’s (2010) article. If parents wish to understand their kids better and possibly break the cycle of violence they find themselves in, it is crucial for them to look out for signs that their child is not only being bullied but a bully themselves. Robison (2010) articulates the typical characteristics of a bully rather well, indicating that they lack empathy, prefer rebellious behaviors, act impulsively, and so on. However, while these characteristics are correct, it is rather hard for parents to assess their children’s predisposition to bullying using these subjective qualities.

Thus, there is a need for a more in-depth set of signs a child usually displays if they find themselves in a position of power among their peers and decide to bully others. Firstly, an obvious sign that a child might be a bully is if they refuse to take responsibility for their words and actions. It is a psychological mechanism for bullies to continue what they are doing: shift the blame, and thus, the feelings of guilt and regret onto others. Hence, parents should be aware that their kids often make justifications for their behavior or excuses based on some external factors. If the child rarely admits they are actually in the wrong when they clearly are, it might be implied that they are a bully.

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The second sign is the child’s lack of compassion towards the struggles of others. Emotional intelligence is a great indicator that the kid is aware of the feelings of others enough not to be a bully but a supportive friend or an advocate for someone weaker instead. Thus, when the child lacks such an innate skill as being empathetic, there is a high risk of them abusing whatever power and confidence they have and becoming a bully. The lack of compassion enables children to disregard the emotions of others when manipulating or degrading them.

The third sign that the child might be involved in bullying is their constant need for control and dominance. In its essence, bullying is an effort to exert some sort of control over others, which implies that the kid’s need to take control of smaller things might extend into control of others through bullying. Bullies are usually extremely aware of the social ties they are surrounded by and try to climb up the social ladder by manipulating peers through bullying. The end goal is most probably for the bully to ensure the other person does exactly as the bully wants.

The next sign that the child is a bully is related to their entourage. Parents should carefully assess the friends and acquaintances their kid has in order to determine whether or not they display violent or aggressive behaviors. Surroundings make up a major portion of the child’s worldview. In the case of bullying, children might either surround themselves with bullies just like them or find themselves in a position where they have to become a bully in order to fit into the group of friends. This sign is exceptionally important for parents to remember as it might be a bit difficult to pick up on some of the signs with their own child.

The fifth and final sign is if the child is obsessed with popularity. Bullies are usually fixated on fitting into the point of dominating the social hierarchy. It is evident that if kid demonstrates obsessive tendencies in regard to popularity, they are likely to do anything it takes to improve and maintain their social status. As a result, possibly to make up for some of their other insecurities, the child will fight for popularity by deploying manipulation and dominance tactics, which are the basic elements of bullying.

All of these signs are exceptionally important for parents to keep in mind if they truly care for the well-being of their child. Some might think that bullying only harms the victim, which is not true. Research demonstrates that bullies have an increased likelihood of developing depression, going to prison, partaking in drug and alcohol abuse, and displaying violent tendencies (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine). This is a logical outcome of someone getting away with bullying and developing a habit of validating themselves through violence. Therefore, parents have to be extra cautious and do their best to communicate with their children in an effort to discover whether or not their kid is displaying some of the signs of being a bully.

Helping Kids Deal with Bullying

Helping a child deal with bullying starts with preventative measures. The first way to assist the kid in coming up with bullies is to teach them a set of responses, which they can use in case someone is picking on them. This may serve as an effective solution to de-escalate bullying. If the child already knows how to respond to a bully in the most simple yet direct way, they are far less likely to find themselves caught off guard in a critical situation. The second way to help the child is to empower them to be an “upstander” instead of a passive bystander when someone is being bullied. On the one hand, the kid engages in positive action and speaks up, which benefits those around them. On the other hand, the child now understands that they are not powerless and, in fact, can make bullies face repercussions, which makes them feel more secure and safe. The third way is to contact the bully’s parents. This is not the first thing a parent should do, yet it might be appropriate in cases of persistent bullying, violence, or intimidation. The next strategy is to partner with the school and cooperate with the staff on implementing bullying prevention programs. Finally, the last way to help the child deal with bullies is to teach them some coping skills such as communicating with parents, expressing their feelings, and so on.

Reducing Bullying: Effective Ways

The first way to reduce bullying is to implement intervention programs at schools, which might include empathy training for troubled youth as well as confidence-building seminars for those children at a higher risk of becoming victimized. Kousholt and Fisker (2015) note that such an approach is in accordance with the first-order perspectives on bullying, which “see bullying as an aspect of an individual’s dysfunctional and antisocial behaviour and have the goal of achieving change at the individual level” (p. 595). The second way to reduce bullying is for the schools to assess their practices of inadvertently supporting bullying in order to develop interventions targeted at changing the school structures to minimize social exclusion and intimidation. I would like to see the third approach being incorporated: regular parent-teacher conferences focused solely on anti-bullying policies and positive changes both in school and at home. I believe that cooperation between schools and parents ensures that the possible risks of bullying are minimized due to an integrated approach designed to oversee school efforts and each student’s home life.

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Female Bullies

It is important to understand the gender distinction between bullies. According to the most recent data, around 4.8 percent of bullies are female, compared to 8.6 percent of male bullies (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, n.d.). There has been a decrease in the percentage of female bullies, at least in the U.S. (Waasdorp et al., 2017). This is a direct result of nationwide educational policies brought by increased attention to bullying and its impact on children.

References

Kousholt, K., & Fisker, T. B. (2015). Approaches to reduce bullying in schools – A critical analysis from the viewpoint of first- and second-order perspectives on bullying. Children & Society, 29(6), 593–603.

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2016). Preventing bullying through science, policy, and practice. Web.

Robison, K. (2010). Bullies and victims: A primer for parents. National Association of School Psychologists. Web.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Gender differences in bullying. Web.

Waasdorp, T. E., Pas, E. T., Zablotsky, B., & Bradshaw, C. P. (2017). Ten-year trends in bullying and related attitudes among 4th- to 12th-graders. Pediatrics, 139(6).

Wong-Lo, M., Bullock, L., & Gable, R. A. (2011). Cyber bullying: practices to face digital aggression. Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties, 16(3), 317–325.

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