Today, bullying affects nearly one in three American schoolchildren in grades six through 10.
The facts are staggering.
But not your little angel, no way. She’s perfect. He gets good grades. She has lots of friends.
Friends who are mean.
And what if your kid’s friends are mean to him or her? Parents rightly worry. But there’s another unsettling thought to consider: that your darling child is the one doing the bullying.
Bullying has been around as long as societal variations: rich and poor, strong and weak, colour and the lack thereof. Because bullies feel so insecure about their own differences, they target others with characteristics even more challenged by their social circles, according to national bullying expert Joel Haber.
And the Internet hasn’t helped. Cyberbullying — harassment that happens on Facebook, Twitter, Kik, Ask.fm, the list goes on and on — has become an epidemic. With all the new, behind-the-scenes opportunities for mean behaviour, parents can hardly keep up.
These six signs might help you determine if your child is the bully:
1. Your child seems obsessed with social status or popularity.
Sociology professor at the University of California Davis Robert Faris recently teamed up with Anderson Cooper for a special segment on bullying. His research of 700 students at a Long Island high school found that the quest for popularity overwhelmingly fuelled bullying. The higher a student climbed on the social ladder, the more they bullied others — and got bullied themselves, according to CNN.
U.S. Department of Health & Humans Services’ (HHS) website on bullying says children who “are competitive and worry about their reputation or popularity,” are cause for concern, too.
2. You child displays aggressive behaviour — either emotional or physical.
A strong link between aggression and social prominence develops by early adolescence, according to another study from the psychology department at the University of California. Behaviours like possession of extra money or new belongings contribute to that, according to HSS.
But after about eighth grade, bullying becomes much more covert — like “Mean Girls” in IRL (That’s slang for “in real life.” You might as well start learning the lingo, parents.) Boys and girls equally use social intimidation to maintain their social status. Rumours, often about a student’s sexuality or family members, can play a huge role.
3. Your child is getting bullied.
A study conducted at the Institute of Education in London found that fewer than 1% of bullies are “true bullies” — those not also bullied by their peers, The Guardian reported.
And Faris’ study found that 56% of students were either the aggressor, the victim, or both at any given time, according to CNN.
4. His or her friends are bullies.
To maintain their popularity or avoid getting bullied themselves, kids sometimes join in on the meanness, the Pacer Center says. So even if your child doesn’t seem at risk, keep a close eye on his or her friend group.
5. Your child spends a lot of time online.
The Enough Is Enough organisation says that cyberbullies spend more time online than nice kids — 38.4 hours compared to 26.8 hours.
Even though most bullying occurs offline, 66% of teens who have witnessed online cruelty have also seen others joining. And 21% admitted they join too, according to a 2011 Pew Internet study.
The consequences, for both parties, can also be potentially worse than IRL. Online harassment is documented and can legally constitute libel. Sharing unauthorised or inappropriate photos and information also has its penalties.
And kids are willing to be even more cruel and obscene because they feel their comments “don’t count,” director of the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center Elizabeth Englander told The New York Times.
6. You’re divorced, or your child isn’t living with his or her biological parents.
Children who come from split homes or don’t live with their biological parents face a higher risk of becoming bullies, according to a study at Brunel University in London. They often don’t receive enough one-on-one time.
Why is recognising these signs so important?
Bullying doesn’t just harm the victim, but the aggressor, too. The HHS’ bullying website lists the following as potential effects:
- Abuse of alcohol and other drugs in adolescence and as adults.
- Getting into fights, vandalizing property, and dropping out of school.
- Engaging in early sexual activity.
- Having criminal convictions and traffic citations as adults.
- Being abusive toward their romantic partners, spouses, or children as adults.
Unsurprisingly, extra attention could help solve the problem — but not the negative kind. As much as parents like to think punishment or consequences will solve the problem, negative reinforcement forces the bully further into anger, exacerbating the bad behaviour.
Instead, parents should ask children how they feel when they get bullied and make sure they understand their actions, HHS says. Involving the bully in making amends will also proactively show him or her that making others feel good feels good for them, too. And there are always going to be bigger, badder bullies. One day, your son or daughter might have to learn his or her lesson the hard way.
On paper, asking your child about how they feel sounds good, but some parents take a different approach. One dad made his son stand in the middle of the street with a sign reading, “I am a bully! Honk if you hate bullies.” The humiliation seemed to work, he told the Daily Mail. The dad can dish it out and take it, too. After receiving criticism, he stood in the street with his own sign: “I am not sorry! Honk 2 stop bullying.”
Look, you know your kid. All the advice from acronymed organisations won’t mean a thing if you don’t care about your child’s bad behaviour.
And if you don’t care, then you’re not just the parent of a bully, you’re a bully yourself.
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