Twelve-year old Leah arrived home from school sobbing. For the past two weeks, she had not wanted to go to school, was reluctant to talk about school, and experienced a slip in grades. Leah finally opened up to her mother, telling her that her so-called “friends” had been spreading rumors about her, excluding her, rolling their eyes whenever she said anything, and whispering about her in class. Leah’s mom listened to her daughter, and wondered what prompted this behavior in the other girls. Leah’s mother discussed the incident with a friend, who told her that Leah was being bullied.
Does this scenario sound all too familiar? According to Palomares and Schilling who wrote How to Handle a Bully, bullying is a pattern of repeated intentionally cruel behavior. It is characterized by an imbalance of power (with the person or group doing the bullying having more power than the person being “targeted”), and an intention to disturb or harm (SAVE Schools from Violence publication by The American Medical Association Alliance Inc.). According to a Fight Crime: Invest In Kids September 2003 news release, “for children in sixth through tenth grades, nearly one in six (3.2 million) are victims of bullying each year. An additional 3.7 million bully other children.
Leah’s mother had thought that bullying was just something that happened to boys. She also thought bullying was only about physical harm or the threat of physical harm. These beliefs are just two of the many common myths of bullying. Bullies can be male or female, do not always go away if you ignore them (some bullies get even more forceful), and may not have low self-esteem, as once was thought. Many bullies have high self-esteem and want to feel more powerful and in control. Some people think bullying/being bullied is just part of going to school. Getting bullied is NOT an acceptable part of childhood. What is acceptable about a child being afraid to go to school?
According to author, Barbara Coloroso, (The Bully, the Bullied and the Bystander) there are three types of bullying. Boys tend to physically bully more than girls by tripping, shoving, or hitting someone smaller, or sensitive, or weaker than they are. Verbal bullying is the most common type used by boys and girls. It can take many forms: cruel criticism, name-calling, racist-slurs, or sexually abusive remarks. With the advent of sophisticated technology, verbal bullying can now involve intimidating e-mails and abusive phone messages. Gossip, false and malicious rumors and being forced to relinquish lunch money/possessions are other examples Coloroso discusses.
Coloroso goes on to say the most difficult type of bullying to detect is relational bullying. Relational bullying diminishes the targeted child’s sense of self through rumors, shunning, ignoring, or excluding. It is most powerful in the middle-school years, and involves rolling of eyes, aggressive stares, frowns, and hostile body language.
What can a parent do for a child like Leah getting bullied? A parent can actively listen to his/her child’s fears, letting the child know he cares. Get information about what happened and what the child’s response was. Teach the child strategies to resolve a bully situation and to empower hem/her: I-messages, assertive responses (look the bully straight in the eye, and answer in a firm voice), self-talk, form strong friendships, learn self-defense (teaches child not only how to defend him/herself, but the child gains the confidence NOT to fight). Parents can encourage their child to participate in activities that make him/her feel good about him/herself.
Schools are in a powerful position to stamp out bullying behavior. Many schools have a “bullying box” where children can report bullying anonymously. A weapon-free, safe environment should be mandatory. Many schools have anti-bullying policies already in place to work with bullies, the targets, and witnesses. Parents can talk to their child’s teacher or counselor about any bullying situation. The child may be embarrassed or scared for the parent to do so; however, parents need to be an advocate for their child’s well-being. Bullying is NOT acceptable.by Jane Cero, Certified Parenting Educator
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