Recently, my daughter had her first, and hopefully last, experience with cyberbullying. Something she said offended one of her classmates, and soon a large group of girls rallied to attack her by calling her names and threatening physical violence the next time they saw her. She was understandably upset and quickly removed herself from social media to avoid the immediate threat. It was obvious by her body language that she was experiencing an acute stress reaction. We talked about the incident and created a safety plan for when she returned to school to give her back some of the power that was taken away by their harsh words and abuse. Luckily, the girls never attacked, but the impact of their behavior left a lasting impression.
Bullying is not about kids being kids.
Bullying is a form of youth violence that impacts both the intended victim and bystanders who witness these events. Bullying is an adverse childhood experience (ACE) which can lead to mental health concerns across the lifespan. Youth who experience bullying are at an increased risk for poor school adjustment, low self-esteem, sleep difficulties, anxiety and depression. Youth exposed to this form of trauma are also at risk for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and experiencing an acute stress or traumatic reaction. Furthermore, youth who report bullying have the highest risk for suicide related behaviors.
Types of bullying can include:
Verbal: teasing, name-calling, threatening to hurt someone
Social: leaving someone out on purpose, telling other children not to be friends with someone, spreading rumors
Physical: hitting, kicking, pinching, taking or breaking someone’s things
Cyber: sending or posting negative, harmful, false or mean content about someone on a digital device such as apps, texts or social media
What responsibility do you have in bullying prevention?
Be a role model. Parents and caregivers play the biggest role in social/emotional development because they offer the most consistent relationships for their child. It is important that parents and caregivers role model positive behaviors in the home and in the community. We cannot expect our children to be kind and empathetic if we do not exemplify that behavior ourselves.
Teach respect, tolerance and inclusion. Everyone is unique and beautiful in their own way. We should teach our youth to celebrate this diversity! Children should understand that while not everyone will be a friend or share the same interests and values as them, they have a responsibility to be respectful and kind.
See something, say something. If you see bullying behavior, intervene. Children need to learn to manage their own conflicts, but if they have not yet developed those skills, it may be necessary for an adult to provide that support and guidance early on. Intervene on behalf of the child being bullied and offer them support but even more importantly, intervene on behalf of the child being the bully. These children are often victims of bullying and trauma themselves.
Create healthy anti-bullying habits. Starting as young as possible, coach your children on both what not to do (push, tease and be mean to others) as well as what to do (be kind, empathize and take turns). Talk with your child about how they should respond if someone is mean to them or to another (get an adult, tell the bully to stop, walk away and ignore the bully).
Nina Rains is a certified prevention specialist at Dayton Children’s Hospital.