Your Child Is Being Bullied: What to Do

Close to 20% of kids between the ages of 12 and 18 experience some form of bullying. Of that number, 15% experience bullying online or via their mobile devices. 

Bullying can be so traumatic that it can have an effect on people throughout their lives. If left unchecked, bullying can have many harmful effects on individuals, families, and communities.

Learn the definition of bullying, the signs your child might be bullied, and what you can do about it.

What Is Bullying?

Bullying is youthful behavior directed towards other young people that is aggressive and unwanted. It occurs once or more between two young people and is likely to continue being repeated.

Core elements of bully behaviors. There are three core elements in behavior that must be identified for it to be considered bullying:

  • There must be aggressive behavior
  • There must be an observed or perceived power imbalance
  • There must be a repetition of the behavior, or the likelihood of the behavior repeating

The CDC developed these criteria to define bullying because there are many other types of youth violence such as fighting, gang violence, or threats with weapons. Each one has its own definition, so it’s important to know what bullying officially is.

Types and places bullying happens. There are several types of bullying that can occur in a young person’s life. Most commonly, bullying is conducted at locations where there is a lesser amount of adult supervision and focus such as at school, during extracurricular activities, or when playing together in a neighborhood. 

As more young people gain access to the internet, the likelihood of being bullied becomes even higher. More children between the ages of 2 and 7 are online using various platforms for learning, socializing, and entertaining themselves. Social media is one of the most used platforms by the age groups that experience bullying.

Teenagers and pre-teens use social media to stay in touch with friends and communicate with each other. It has become very easy for troubled young people to create online personas that they can use to act out towards others.

Video gaming is a favorite past-time for many teenagers because it helps them take their minds off the stresses of teenage life and keeps them entertained. Troubled youths still find ways to bully others in video games. Cyber-bullying is a rising problem among school-aged children and teens.

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Know the Signs of a Child Being Bullied

Your children may not always want to talk to you about the situations they encounter at school. This happens for various reasons, so it’s essential to know how to identify whether your child is being bullied.

Warning signs your child might be bullied. You might see these signs if your child is being bullied. However, it’s important to know that not all children display these bullying warning signs:

  • Nightmares and trouble sleeping
  • Clothing or belongings missing or damaged
  • Injuries they brush off or don’t explain well
  • Frequent headaches, stomach aches, or not feeling well enough to go to school
  • Change in eating habits
  • Friends no longer present in your child’s life
  • Behaviors that are self-destructive, like running away, hurting themselves, or talking about suicide
  • Reduced performance in school and loss of interest in schoolwork
  • Suddenly acting out, expressing feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, or low self-esteem

These signs can present themselves in kids that are not directly being bullied. If their friends are targets of bullying or they see it happening they can develop the signs as well.

Understand the Effects of Bullying

Bullying can affect a person throughout their entire life. 12 out of 15 school shooters had a history of being bullied during the 1990s. This doesn’t mean that your child will act out in this manner, but it does mean that as people age, their past experiences continue to haunt them.

Depression and anxiety are most commonly the effects of bullying and can cause physical, emotional, and mental health problems if not treated.

Who is at risk of being bullied? Young people that act out towards others tend to target kids that they perceive as different, weak, or unable to defend themselves. Some other factors that seem to attract aggressive youths are kids who:

  • Are viewed with a perception of a difference in popularity
  • Are less social, viewed as annoying, or trying to get attention from others
  • Are anxious, depressed, or have low self-esteem

How to Support Your Child if They Are Being Bullied

Once you get your child to open up to you, try not to minimize their experiences. Listen to what they have to say, ask questions, and take action when you believe you have the answers you need.

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Find out what happened. It’s essential to act as soon as you have a suspicion that your child might be bullied. Sit and talk with them and do your best to try to figure out what happened. See if you can determine:

  • If there is a history of conflict between the kids
  • If there is a power imbalance, such as the other child’s size or if they act in a group
  • If the behavior has happened before
  • If your child thinks it will happen again
  • If your child knows if the others were part of a gang
  • If the kids may have dated since teen dating violence is a problem also

Once you figure out the story behind the bullying, ensure the child knows that it’s not their fault that they were bullied. Your child might have an idea of what could help them feel safe in the place they’re being bullied. If it’s at the bus stop, you could go with them. 

Fighting back against a bully may not help the problem. Fighting back can get your child in trouble at school or cause more injuries.

Take action. Notify your child’s teacher(s), school administrators, the principal, or even the school board if necessary. Continue contacting them until the bullying stops. If your child is still being bullied and your local school superintendent doesn’t seem to be helping, call your state’s department of education.

Teach children and teens to be upstanders, not bystanders. More often than not, incidents of bullying are witnessed. There are steps that bystanders to bullying can take to help stop it.

Bystanders are a powerful anti-bullying force when they step in to stop it. When bystanders help out, 57% of the incidents stop within 10 seconds, and the person being bullied feels better because people cared enough to step in. 

Teach your kids to be upstanders — people who know how to deal with the behavior, and who stand up to bullying together.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on March 10, 2021

Sources

SOURCES:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Preventing Bullying,” “Preventing Youth Violence.”

StopBullying.gov: “Bystanders are Essential to Bullying Prevention and Intervention,” “Effects of Bullying,” “Facts About Bullying,” “Find Out What Happened,” “Get Help Now,” “Kids on Social Media and Gaming,” ”Warning Signs for Bullying.”

Verywell Mind: “The Physical Effects of Depression.”

© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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