In my experience as a pediatrician specialist for the evaluation of children who are suspected of being abused, bullying is often a major concern. Children who are different in any way are at risk of being bullied.
Since all children are unique individuals, all children are at risk.
The American Academy of Pediatrics defines bullying as “an act of aggression in which one or more children repeatedly and intentionally intimidate, harass or physically harm a victim who is perceived as unable to defend herself or himself.”
It’s different than fighting or teasing. And, it’s more common than you may realize. Up to 30 percent of sixth- to 10th-graders bully or are bullied.
Children and adolescents who bully, similar to adults who bully, use an imbalance of power to access and intimidate their victims. This imbalance may include physical strength, knowledge of embarrassing information, popularity or other appearances of power. Studies have shown that bullying or being bullied is associated with higher rates of carrying weapons.
Bullying is not a one-time incident, and, like other forms of child abuse, is repetitive and often escalates. The spectrum may start with name calling and eventually lead to physical injuries, depression, death or suicide.
Technology-assisted bullying behavior, or cyberbullying, can cause significant psychological trauma. Use of the Internet to humiliate, ostracize, shun or stalk has been well publicized in tragic cases of child and adolescent suicides. If you are concerned that your child is being bullied, save all emails, chats, texts and Facebook posts and be prepared to talk to other parents about the issue. This is something that requires adult intervention.
Bullying is not a “personality conflict” and not something that can be resolved through simply letting children “work it out.” This exposure to violence is both a mental and physical health issue – for the bully, his or her victims and bystanders who witness bullying behavior.
Bullying should not be a normal rite of passage any more than any other form of child abuse. It does not make children stronger or build character any more than any other forms of physical punishment or emotional abuse.
What can we as parents do to protect our children and build resilience?
We can encourage our schools to adopt evidence-based bullying prevention programs, such as the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program. We can reduce our children’s exposure to violent themes and images on television, on the Internet and in video games. And we can be aware.
Awareness of bullying and recognition of behaviors that may be related to bullying are the first steps to addressing this form of abuse facing our children.
A child who is the victim of a bully may:
- not want to go to school or a particular activity
- change his/her behavior to become sad, moody or withdrawn
- avoid questions about friends or reasons for his/her behavior change
- become upset after using a cellphone or computer
- suddenly decline in academic performance
- have problems with attention at school
- complain frequently of stomach pain or headaches