Friday, September 21, 2012

Identifying, Intervening, Surviving, and Preventing Bullying – A Series: Why Adults Need to Intervene and How to Act Effectively

The simple truth is adults need to intervene because it’s too important not to. We know children don’t often report bullying, we know based on statistics how frequently bullying is happening, and we know the consequences are too great to allow it to continue unchecked. Bullying is no longer simply a case of playground harassment or whispering behind each other’s backs.

Bullying is now recognized as a significant contributor to youth violence, including homicide, suicide, and “bullycide”, the label now applied to children who commit suicide to escape being bullied. The term “bullycide” was coined by authors Neil Marr and Tim Field in their book Bullycide: Death at Playtime, which explores stories of children who have committed suicide as a result of having been bullied.

While there is no formal system for tracking suicides related to bullying, suicide is the 4th leading cause of death in adolescents. There are many other consequences of bullying that make adult intervention essential:
  • Depression
  • Low self-esteem
  • Anxiety
  • Social isolation
  • Loneliness
  • Physical illness such as headaches, stomach aches
  • School absenteeism and subsequently poor academic performance
  • Possible violent behavior in retaliation

In other words, the consequences suffered by victims, both in the short term and long term, are too great to ignore. We can no longer hope the situation will get better on it’s own when a child is being bullied. Recall that a previous post informed us that children won’t often tell us they are being bullied so we must be alert to the signs.

In fact, there is a lot of things happening in children’s lives that they might not tell us, including about their own online behavior, even being a victim of cyberbullying. According to a McAfee study, “teens are hiding porn, cheating at school, hacking into others’ social media accounts, sharing sexy photos and cyberbullying” by closing windows when parents enter the room, deleting items on the computer and phone and clearing their web browsers. So parents have to be alert to signs that their children are doing things online and in this case, being victimized online.

The “why” intervene is the easy part… the “how” to intervene gets a little more complicated. Whether dealing with bullying or cyberbullying, there are definite steps adults and children can take to intervene appropriately.

  • Remember school is a place to learn social skills and about social relationships as well as academics. In other words, some social behavior such as teasing and whispering or choosing one friend over another is actually good for children to experience. We may naturally want to protect our children from hurt feelings and suffering, but we need to ask ourselves first and foremost, “is the behavior my child describing actually bullying?” If it’s not, it’s a great time to have a conversation with your child about social skills, relationships, and treating people right. If it is, then it is time to act accordingly.
  • Talk to your child. Ask questions and listen! Find out the details and document the events and any evidence and witnesses. Help your child research and practice strategies to deal with bullies effectively. Ignoring the bully or allowing the bullying to continue will not make it stop. Learning social skills and resistance strategies and telling safe adults who will act are important actions your child needs to understand. Teaching your child to be his or her own advocate is the best strategy for their own success now and in the future.
  • Become a partner with the school. If your child finds they cannot handle the bullying on their own or if the bullying causes physical injuries, the school must become involved. Many times the initial contact with a school about potential bullying is adversarial but your child will benefit more by reaching out to the school in an inquiring and positive manner, rather than using an accusatory and negative approach. Explain to the school the situation as you know it and the strategies you have already tried to stop the behavior. Ask for a meeting with the administration and brainstorm solutions and next steps together. Included in those steps needs to be identifying safe adults that your child can go to if the bullying continues or escalates, and the assurance that retaliation by both the original bully and/or his or her friends for reporting will not be tolerated.
  • If the school doesn’t respond appropriately seek additional help from the district and, if needed, law enforcement. If you find these steps do not solve the problem, reach out to additional contacts within the school district such as student support services, office of safe schools or even the superintendent’s office if needed. Additionally, if the bullying involves a physical assault and documented injuries, seek medical care and contact law enforcement.
  • Seek counseling and other sources of support for your child. Many times bullies target kids who are socially isolated and don’t have a lot of friends or support. If your child has been bullied for a while their self-esteem might be low and they may have difficulty making friends. Seek the advice of a counselor with experience in this area who can help your child learn to feel better about themselves as well as learn how to function better in social environments. You can also seek out peer support for them through clubs and groups.
  • Lastly, if your child is being cyberbullied you will need to take additional steps to ensure their safety.

Of course schools need to be involved as well. Schools are bound by the Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up For All Students Act to report and intervene in bullying situations, but they need to do more than that. They need to be alert to signs of pre-bullying behavior, teasing and harassment. They also need to teach kids empathy and good social skills in an effort to prevent bullying. Helping peers relate better is a skill that will not only prevent bullying but will serve children well throughout their lives. And of course good old-fashioned supervision is also necessary. We know most bullying occurs in places where supervision is low and social interaction is high, such as playgrounds, cafeterias and bathrooms, so schools need to increase supervision in these areas.

Speak Up Be Safe™ includes, as a part of an overall comprehensive prevention program for children, counselors, teachers and parents, bullying prevention education. If your school doesn’t have our program, it’s time to encourage them to get it.

Adults aren’t the only ones who can intervene and help stop bullying. In our next post we will address “bystanders,” or children who watch bullying take place or ignore it to some extent, and how they can help stop bullying. We will also discuss what communities can do to help prevent bullying, so stay tuned to find out more.

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