by Dr. Dale V. Atkins, December 2009
Bullying is a social problem most often associated with children and adolescents. Ask most adults where they think most bullying happens and they will say in the locker room or the playground. With the advent of increased internet access, children today also face cyberbullying.
Bullying is all too common among school-age children. Sixth-graders appear to be the most vulnerable, according to National Center for Education Statistics. Furthermore, you don't even have to be a bully or a bully's victim to be harmed; simply being a repeat witness to bullying can result in fearfulness, feelings of powerlessness, guilt, and diminished empathy, which is why it is essential that we teach "bystander children" by example and by role-playing the importance to them, their friends, and to society, the value of speaking out against bullying behavior whenever they see it.
How do you as a parent confront the challenges in identifying when a child has been bullied and determine the best response? First, it is important to note any changes in a child's demeanor. Has his appetite decreased suddenly? Is she sleeping less? Is he afraid to go to school? Spending time in a fun activity together may help you sort out underlying issues.
If your child is being bullied, determine the seriousness and frequency of the behavior. Low-level bullying, along the lines of making faces, while unpleasant, is something you and the child can discuss and strategize for possible approaches. You can bring this to the attention of the school to discover what its policy is regarding bullying behavior. You can encourage your child to refrain from attacking his bully or showing anger at the behavior. Often, when the recipient of an insult does not show an emotional response, that stops the bullying because it is no longer "fun" for the bully. However the behavior still needs to be addressed and stopped.
If your strategies fail, or the bullying level involves threats or physical harm, since you have already alerted the school you will need to follow up. Call or email the appropriate contact to inform them of the incidents and your inability to effect change. In a cooperative, direct manner seek their help regarding possible solutions. Be specific about what plan they intend to utilize and what you can do to be helpful.
Follow up on what has been done and ensure that the school has a zero-tolerance policy for bullying. Whether the remarks or actions are oriented toward a child's race, religion, background, appearance, size, gender, or sexual identity, bullying has no place in a child's life. As the Anti Defamation League (ADL) suggests in their cyber bullying awareness programs for children of all ages, if you would not say it to a person's face, don't write it in an e-mail or text message, and don't forward it. For more information about bullying and programs to address it, please visit www.adl.org.
Children need to feel safe (cyberbullying invades a child's "safe" place of home, since many children carry their phones on them and their computers are often in their rooms) and have the resources to respond appropriately.
A caring adult in their life is one such resource.
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