Posted: March 3rd, 2011 by Michele Borba
Parenting advice if your child is a repeated victim of bullying and the bullying intensifies. Why you must step in and how
It’s been ten years, but I am still haunted by the memory.
It was in Ottawa, Canada. I had just finished giving a keynote address on bullying to a large group of educators. A gentleman was quietly waiting by the stairs of the stage to speak with me.
As I approached the man, he silently handed me a picture of an adorable eleven-year old boy. With tears in his eyes, the man thanked me for my speech and explained that the photo was his son who had hung himself because he was bullied.
The father said he had to talk to me. He’d listened to my talk and said he knew that if people had only listened to what I said about bullying, his son would be alive today. He asked me to please keep warning parents of the horrific consequences. I promised that father I’d never give up, we hugged, and then he quietly walked away.
I’ve carried that child’s photo with me every day since. I’ve shared it with hundreds of parents and educators everywhere I speak. It’s my reminder that adults need to take bullying far more seriously. We must tune into our children closer, listen and believe them, and then step in if necessary so a child does not have deal with cold-blooded cruel attacks alone.
And we better quicken our pace.
Studies find that 160,000 children skip school every day because they fear being attacked or intimidated by other students.
A recent study prepared for the American Psychological Association showed that 80 percent of middle school students admit to bullying behavior in the prior 30 days.
Research shows bullying is escalating and bullies are more likely to be aggressive and could carry a weapon.
There is also another danger. The United States Secret Service studied over 30 school shootings. Could they develop a profile of a school shooter? The answer was no, but they did find one commonality:
Each school shooter had been bullied intensely by peers, and no adult ever intervened.
Bullied children can become bullies.
What If the Victim is Your Child?
Bullying is almost always a repeated behavior. That means once a child is targeted she usually continues to be targeted.
If this is your child, you must intervene. A bullied child cannot solve this problem on her own, but needs a caring, competent adult on his or her side.
Here are first steps to take if your child is a victim:
Take your child seriously. Research finds that 49 percent of kids say they’ve been bullied at least once or twice during the school term but only 32 percent of their parents believed them. Listen to your child!
Gather facts. Next, you need all the facts so you can help your kid create a plan to stop it. “What happened?” “Who did this?” “Where were you?” “Who was there?” “Were you alone?” “Has it happened before?” “How often?” “How does it start?” “What didyou do?” “Do you think he’ll do it again?” “Did anyone help you?” “Did an adult see this?” Those facts will help you create a safety plan for your child based on where the bullying is taking place (and bullying usually happens at the same time and place!)
Offer specific tips for a plan of action. Most kids can’t handle bullying on their own: they need your help, so provide a specific plan. For instance, if bullying is happening on the bus tell your child to sit on the right side across from the the bus driver so he can watch (the worse place to sit is near the back on the right hand side where the driver can’t see the passengers in the mirror). You could ask an older kid to “watch out” for your child, or offer to pick your child up from school.
Don’t make promises. You may have to protect your child, so make no promises to keep things confidential. “I want to make sure you don’t get hurt, so I can’t guarantee I won’t tell. Let’s see what we can do so this doesn’t happen again.”
Get professional help. Repeated bullying causes severe emotional harm and erode your child’s fragile self-esteem. Boys and girls are also bullied differently: girls are more likely to be victims of emotional and verbal bullying while boys are usually bullied by physical harm or threat. But whether the bullying was verbal, physical or relational, the long-term effects are equally harmful.
Both boys and girls reported high levels of emotional distress and loneliness as well as lower self-esteem, loneliness, anxiety and depression. Seek the help of a trained mental health professional.
I am an educational psychologist, parenting expert, TODAY show contributor and author of 22 books.
You can also refer to my daily blog, Dr. Borba’s Reality Checkfor ongoing parenting solutions and late-breaking news about child development.
You can also find dozens more research-based and practical tips in my latest book, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions. For more tips about reducing bullying refer to the specific chapters on Bullied, Bullying, Insensitive and Peer Pressure.
Parents don’t take bullying seriously: S. Ziegler and M. Rosenstein-Manner, Bullying at School: Toronto in an International Context (Toronto: Toronto Board of Education, 1999), p. 22.
One in two 8 to 11 years olds say they discussed bullying with their parents: “R. Arce, “Study: Kids Rate Bullying and Teasing as “Big Problem: Survey Finds Children Don’t Think Parents Hear Their Safety Concerns,”CNN.com. Mar. 8, 2001.
N. R. Crick, “Relational and Overt Forms of Peer Victimization: A Multiinformant Approach,Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Vol. 66., No.2,” Mar 26, 1998.
J. C. Rusby, “Bullying in Middle School May Lead to Increased Substance Abuse in High School,” Journal of Early Adolescence, Dec 30, 2005.