It is thought that one in four children experience bullying before they leave high school. One in four. That is a simple statistic and it is worth repeating. One in four. 25 percent. So, the odds are good that your immediate family includes bullying survivors. This therefore, is an important topic for most if not for all of us.
Bullying is a behaviour characterised by the apparently more powerful picking on the apparently less powerful in a group. It may be physical, verbal, or both. Bullying can take place in our normal day-to-day lives and or it may be an online or virtual experience. Bullying, at its core, is about power. The bully wishes to exert power and to dominate the victim – this power is usually the primary motive although material gains like stealing cash or sweets or phones or homework can play a role too. Bullying nearly always takes on a repetitive pattern and is rarely a once-off occurrence. We think of bullying in children at school, but it can and does affect adults too, at work, in sport, online, etc.
What to look for? A bullied child will often:
Try to avoid school or social situations that might involve bullies or bullying
Spend more and more time alone.
Seem sad and or depressed.
…so any of these signs should be taken seriously.
What to do if you’re a victim? The best options for victims are:
- Remember that the bully is the person with the personality and emotional and maturity problems, not you.
- The bully wants a response: tears, upset, avoidance, running away, etc. Something negative. Try to stay positive and confident if you can and in so doing, deny the bully what she/he is looking for.
- Calm discussion, with the bully, can sometimes help although this often works better with adults or older children.
- If you cannot solve the problem, the correct and proper thing to do is to do escalate. Ask parents or schoolteachers or other authority figures. This is not weakness. This is being smart and assertive.
What to do if you’re a parent? The best options for parents are:
- Be on the lookout for changes in behaviour especially if they involve any avoiding of school or social situations.
- Know that bullying is serious and not just some “rite of passage”
- Be prepared to support your child and to intervene with the bully or her/his parents or the school, etc.
- Let you child always know that you can be approached and you will intervene. Bullying victims often feel isolated and unable to “get out” so make sure you are really “there” in this practical “I will support you and I will intervene” manner. You do not make tough kids by letting them endure bullying; you just risk your child becoming a damaged fearful timid adult at risk of depression and suicide.
What to do as society? This is tricky and it may be controversial. There are those who still believe that a bit of bullying is ‘normal” and it “toughens kids up”. Indeed, modern society may be guilty of trying to make the world 100% risk free and in so doing we may create a generation of “soft” people who lack resilience and toughness. But you do not become resilient and tough by being bullied. At least not in a healthy positive way. No, as a society we need to reject all forms of bullying. We need to call out the bullies and we should encourage children (peers), teachers, and everyone, to do the same.
What about online bullying? Well, this is a very real thing today. Indeed, the anonymity (real or just perceived) is thought to make bullying and aggressive behaviour in general, more prevalent online. Most of know that we sometimes type what we would be hesitant to verbalise, don’t we? So we must be on the lookout for cyber-bullies. The best approach to cyber-bullying may be more complex in some cases (e.g. you may not even know the actual identity of the bully) and it is somewhat beyond the expertise of this writer, so please look into this further, knowing it to be a very real concern for some.
Bullying is a scourge and it needs to be seen as the weak, insecure, immature, damaging, sometimes criminal, inadequacy that it is.