Bullying affects many of us, kids and adults alike, and can leave anyone feeling hurt, angry, frightened, and even depressed or overwhelmed. Those who bully often experience their own psychological problems as well. Technology has made the problem of bullying even more widespread. Cyber-bullying can occur via email, texts, cell phones, and social media websites 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with potentially thousands of people involved.
Because bullying is so common, many people think it’s normal and should be tolerated. But it doesn’t have to be. By learning about why some kids bully and why others are bullied, you can help yourself or a loved one deal with bullying, and develop the resilience and self-confidence to succeed in life.
Why bullying and cyber-bullying hurts
Bullying is repeated aggressive behavior that can be physical, verbal, or relational. Boys frequently bully using physical threats and actions, while girls are more likely to engage in verbal or relationship bullying. The results are similar:
- You are made to feel hurt, angry, afraid, helpless, hopeless, isolated, ashamed, and even guilty that the bullying is somehow your fault. You may even feel suicidal.
- Your physical health is likely to suffer, and you are at a greater risk of developing mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, or adult onset PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).
- You’re more likely to miss, skip, or drop out of school to avoid being bullied.
The most damaging aspect of bullying is its repetition. Bullies are often relentless, bullying over and over again for long periods of time. You may live in constant fear of where and when the bully will strike next, what they’ll do, and how far they’ll go. cyber-bullying has made this even worse because it can be witnessed by many more people and continue around the clock.
|All Bullying Hurts|
Source: PBS Kids - It's My Life
How cyber-bullying harms
A bully can harass, threaten, or humiliate you by using computers, cell phones, and social networking sites to:
- Send or forward hurtful or threatening emails or text messages.
- Post photos and other personal information online without your consent.
- Pretend to be someone else to trick or humiliate you.
- Spread lies and rumors about you.
- Create a group or social networking page to target or exclude you.
- Dupe you into revealing personal information that can then be used to hurt you.
In many cases, cyber-bullying can be even more painful than face-to-face bullying. A lot of cyber-bullying can be done anonymously, so you may not be sure who is targeting you. This can make you feel even more threatened and can embolden bullies, as they believe online anonymity means they’re less likely to get caught. Since cyberbullies can’t see your reaction, they will often go much further in their harassment or ridicule than they would do face-to-face with you.
Research shows that about 25 percent of kids experience bullying and even more of us are impacted by cyber-bullying, so you’re not alone. While there are many reasons why bullies may be targeting you, the main reasons are usually your physical appearance or social standing within your peer group.
Bullies tend to pick on people who are “different” or don’t fit in with the mainstream.
If you are being bullied, remember:
- Don’t blame yourself. It is not your fault. No matter what someone says or does, you should not be ashamed of who you are or what you feel.
- Be proud of who you are. Despite what a bully says, there are many wonderful things about you. Keep those in mind instead of the messages you hear from bullies.
- Get help. Talk to a parent, teacher, counselor, or other trusted adult. Seeing a counselor does not mean there is something wrong with you.
- Learn to deal with stress. Finding ways to relieve stress can make you more resilient so you won’t feel overwhelmed by bullying. Exercise, meditation, positive self-talk, muscle relaxation and breathing exercises are all good ways to manage the stress from bullying.
There is no single solution to bullying and cyber-bullying. It may take some experimenting with a variety of different responses to find the strategy that works best for your situation. To defeat a bully, you need to retain your self-control and preserve your sense of self.
Tip #1: Respond as bullying is happening
- Walk away. Bullies want to know they have control over your emotions so don’t react with anger or retaliate with physical force. If you walk away, ignore them, or calmly and assertively tell them you’re not interested in what they have to say, you’re demonstrating that they don’t have control over you.
- Protect yourself. If you can’t walk away and are being physically hurt, protect yourself so you can get away. Your safety is the first priority.
- Report the bullying to a trusted adult. If you don’t report threats and assaults, a bully will often become more and more aggressive. In many cases adults can find ways to help with the problem without letting the bully know it was you who reported them.
- Repeat as necessary. Like the bully, you may have to be relentless. Report each and every bullying incident until it stops. There is no reason for you to ever put up with bullying.
Tip #2: Handle a cyber-bully
- Do not respond to cyber-bullying messages. The bully wants to feel in control of your emotions, so the best response is no response.
- Document cyber-bullying. Save and print out emails, text messages, or screenshots.
- Block the cyber-bully on your phone, IM list, websites, or social media pages. Report inappropriate messages to an Internet service provider or website moderator; report threats to the police.
Tip #3: Reframe the problem of bullying or cyber-bullying
By changing your attitude towards bullying you can help regain a sense of control.
- Try to view bullying from a different perspective. The bully is an unhappy, frustrated person who wants to have control over your feelings so that you feel as badly as they do. Don’t give them the satisfaction.
- Look at the big picture. Bullying can be extremely painful, but try asking yourself how important it will seem to you in the long run. Will it matter in a year? Is it worth getting so upset over? If the answer is no, focus your time and energy elsewhere.
- Focus on the positive. Reflect on all the things you appreciate in your life, including your own positive qualities and gifts. Make a list and refer to it whenever you feel down.
- Find the humor. If you’re relaxed enough to recognize the absurdity of a bullying situation, and to comment on it with humor, you’ll likely no longer be an interesting target for a bully.
- Don’t try to control the uncontrollable. Many things in life are beyond our control—including the behavior of other people. Rather than stressing, focus on the things you can control such as the way you choose to react to bullies.
Tip #4: Avoid isolation
Having trusted people you can turn to for encouragement and support will boost your resilience when being bullied. Reach out to connect with family and real friends (those who don’t participate in bullying) or explore ways of making new friends. There are plenty of people who will love and appreciate you for who you are.
- Find others who share your same values and interests. You may be able to make friends at a youth group, book club, or religious organization. Learn a new sport, join a team, or take up a new hobby such as chess, art, or music.
- Share your feelings. Talk to a parent, counselor, coach, religious leader, or trusted friend. Expressing what you’re going through can make a huge difference to the way you feel, even if it doesn’t change the situation.
- Boost your confidence. Exercise is a great way to help you feel good about yourself, as well as reduce stress. Punch a mattress or take a kick boxing class to work off your anger.
- Don’t beat yourself up. Don’t make a bullying incident worse by dwelling on it or replaying it over and over in your head. Instead, focus on positive experiences you’ve had.
Teachers and parents of both the bullied and the bullies can play a crucial role in preventing, identifying, and stopping bullying. Creating safe, stress-free environments at home and at school can help prevent the tension and anxiety that can lead to bullying.
Tip #1: Understand the truth about bullying and cyber-bullying
Despite how widespread the problem has become, many parents and teachers still have some misconceptions about bullying and cyberbullying.
|Myths about Bullying and Cyber-bullying|
It’s only bullying if the child is physically hurt. Words can’t hurt.
Children have killed each other and committed suicide after being involved in verbal, relationship, or cyber-bullying. Words do hurt and they can have a devastating effect on the emotional wellbeing of a child or teen.
My child would never be a bully.
All kids make mistakes; it’s part of growing up. Parents who deny the possibility that their child is capable of being hurtful make it harder for bullies to get the help they need.
Bullies are simply bad people and should be expelled from school.
There are a lot of reasons why children bully. Some are bullied themselves, at home or elsewhere, others bully only when they feel stressed or overwhelmed.
Kids can be either bullies or victims, not both.
Kids can often change roles, going from victim to bully and back again. For example, a bully in fifth grade may be a victim when he moves to middle school, or a victim in the playground can take revenge and become the bully online.
Tip #2: Spot the warning signs that a child or teen is being bullied
If a child is being bullied it may not be obvious to a parent or teacher. Most bullying occurs away from adults, when kids are alone in hallways or on the way home from school, for example. Bullies tend to be adept at hiding their behavior from adults and bullying victims will often cover up evidence because of a sense of shame at being victimized. Kids are also reluctant to tell their parents about being cyberbullied out of fear they’ll lose their computer or cell phone privileges.
Tip #3: Take steps to stop bullying and cyber-bullying
- Talk to kids about bullying and cyber-bullying. Just talking about the problem can be a huge stress reliever for someone who’s being bullied. Be supportive and listen to a child’s feelings without judgment, criticism, or blame.
- Monitor technology use in younger children. Set up filters on your child’s computer and keep it in a busy area of your house so you can easily monitor its use. Learn the common acronyms kids use online and in text messages. Document threats and report them to the police.
- Find help for a child who’s afraid. Make sure other teachers, coaches, and counselors know the child is being bullied. No child should have to handle bullying alone.
- Help the child avoid isolation. Kids with friends are better equipped to handle bullying. Find ways to increase their social circle, via youth or religious groups or clubs, for example.
It can be difficult for any parent to learn that their child is bullying others. The sooner you address the problem, though, the better chance you have of avoiding the long-term effects this behavior can have on a child. People who bully others:
- Have a higher risk of abusing alcohol and other drugs in adolescence and as adults.
- Are more likely to get into fights, vandalize property, and drop out of school.
- Are twice as likely as their peers to have criminal convictions as adults and four times more likely to be multiple offenders.
- Are more likely as adults to be abusive toward their romantic partners, spouses, or children.
Bullying is often a learned behavior
Bullies can learn aggressive behavior from their experiences at home. Research suggests that some kids and teens may become more aggressive by playing violent video games. While it’s a controversial subject, parents should monitor the amount of violent content their children are exposed to via TV, movies, or video games.
As a parent, you may be setting a bad example for your kids by spanking or otherwise striking them, verbally or physically abusing your spouse, or by displaying bullying behavior such as:
- Abusing your child’s sports coach, umpires and referees, or members of the opposing team.
- Swearing at other drivers on the road.
- Humiliating a waitress, shop assistant, or cab driver who makes a mistake.
- Talking negatively about other students, parents, or teachers so that your child thinks it’s acceptable to use verbal abuse to intimidate others.
Tips for parents dealing with a bullying child
- Educate your child about bullying. Your child may have difficulty reading social signs or may not understand how hurtful their behavior can be. Foster empathy by encouraging your child to look at their actions from the victim’s perspective. Remind your child that bullying can have legal consequences.
- Remember you are a model for your children. Kids learn from adults’ aggressive or mean-spirited behavior.
- Manage stress. Teach your child positive ways to manage stress. Your child’s bullying may be an attempt at relieving stress. Or your own stress, anxiety, or worry may be creating an unstable home environment. Exercise is a great way for both kids and adults to let off steam and relieve stress.
- Set limits with technology. Let your child know you’ll be monitoring his or her use of computers, email, and text messaging.
- Establish consistent rules of behavior. Make sure your child understands your rules and the punishment for breaking them. Children may not think they need discipline, but a lack of boundaries sends a signal that the child is unworthy of the parents’ time, care, and attention.
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