Identifying Bullying and What Parents Can Do
Exactly what is bullying? According to the definition provided by the CDC and Department of Education, the core elements of bullying include, “unwanted aggressive behavior; observed or perceived power imbalance; and repetition of behaviors or high likelihood of repetition.” Bullying is a persistent pattern of hurting or humiliating others who are frequently weaker, smaller, younger or somehow more vulnerable. Bullying can be accomplished physically, verbally or emotionally. It can also take the forms of damaging someone’s property or reputation. Bullying differs from general aggression because it is intentional, and it is recurrent. A bully repeatedly seeks ways to exploit those who are less powerful.
As a teacher, it seems to me that the word “bullying” has become overused in recent years. I have frequently had students who claim to be being bullied. When I explore the situation further, it may be that one of their friends didn’t play with them at recess that day or said something that wasn’t nice. A child may have even become physically aggressive. Unless this is a pattern, this does not fit the definition of bullying.
Who are the bullies? Bullies aren’t born; they are created. This can occur when the natural aggressiveness of a toddler is not dealt with properly. Young children need to learn that they can’t get away with this behavior. Parents need to be firm in establishing boundaries. However, bullying can also be the result of being raised in an aggressive home. Parents must be firm, but not aggressive, when dealing with inappropriate behavior in toddlers. Bullies often have difficult relationships with both family and peers. They seem to have no empathy for the feelings of others. Bullies often attribute bad intentions to others, even when none are present. I have witnessed this in my third-grade classroom. I recall watching a boy accidentally bump into the desk of a bully. It was clearly an accident, and he barely touched the desk. The bully went ballistic and was ready to throw punches. Having been in the classroom for over 13 years, I’m confident stating that this incident would have had little or no effect on most children. What I found most interesting is that I had witnessed this same bully intentionally and regularly bump the desks of other students. I believe this may be why he assumed mal intent from the other child.
There are no bullies without victims. So, who are the victims? Bullies search for available prey. They want to find someone who seems scared and lacks assertiveness. Bullies seek someone who will be submissive. They want a victim they can overpower or control.
What is cyberbullying? When someone uses electronic media to bully another person, it is called cyberbullying. It does not seem to be a major issue in third grade, but teachers tell me that it gets worse in fourth and fifth grades. It can involve social media, such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat. It also includes text messaging on cell phones as well as email.
There are some special considerations with cyberbullying. It is more difficult to avoid cyberbullying, because one can’t simply walk away, and children are unlikely to shut down their social media. Because parents and teachers are unlikely to witness cyberbullying, parents should monitor their children’s social media and enforce breaks from all electronics at night. It is also important to teach children that once something is posted publicly on the internet, it is usually permanent. This can affect the online reputation of the victim and can be difficult to overcome. The bully may also experience repercussions from cyberbullying if employers or even college admission counselors check the internet footprint of potential hires or students.
How should we teach our children to deal with a bully? One of the most important things we can teach our children is to walk away from a bully. This is often a very effective strategy because it takes away the bully’s power over the victim. Another way to avoid a bully is to be in the company of one or more friends, and to teach children to stand up for one another. Bullies prefer to strike when the potential victim is alone.
Parents can help their children not become victims by working to instill self-confidence in their children and by practicing responses to the bully. Teach children to have a plan, including a “safe” adult to talk to, if they feel they are in danger. It’s also important to ask children about how they are treated by other students. Children can be embarrassed to talk about being bullied, as they often feel ashamed. Let them know that it is never their fault, and that no one should be bullied.
If you are concerned or suspect that your child is being bullied, speak with the child’s teacher. Another option to consider is speaking with a therapist. Some even provide social skills classes intended to increase self-confidence. It is also important to get help from teachers or professionals if you suspect that your child is bullying other children.
- Stopbullying.gov. This site gives the laws, policies and regulations created around bullying prevention. A searchable map gives the anti-bullying laws and policies in each state. Oklahoma public schools must have a policy for the discipline of all children attending public school and for the investigation of report incidence of bullying. The Oklahoma law requires districts to provide education programming for students and parents for preventing, identifying, responding to and reporting incidents of bullying. Districts are also required to provide annual training for administrators and school employees.
- oklahomaparentscenter.org. This site gives examples of different types of bullying, how to be a self-advocate and how to create an action plan.
- pacer.org. PACER’s is a National Bullying Prevention Center that provides resources for students, parents, educators and others. Resources include classroom activities, lessons and toolkits, inspires communities to get involved in anti-bullying efforts, provides guides and resources for parents and creates school-wide opportunities to address bullying.