How Parents Can Help Stop or Prevent Bullying
Just as kids are formally gathering in classrooms, they’re gathering in school yards, hallways, sports stadiums and online. Parents hope they’re making good friends, but in some cases, just the opposite is happening – through bullying.
More and more, bullying is recognized as a behavior that needs to be stopped – both to protect those being bullied and to teach bullies better ways to relate.
“Bullying is on the forefront of parents’ minds as their kids go back to school, and we’re fortunate to live in a society where it’s being talked about,” said Nicholas Torbert, DO, Avera Medical Group pediatrician.
When it Happens – Who Gets Bullied
Bullying can happen at all ages and even into adulthood. How do parents know if their child is being bullied?
“It starts by having good conversations with your kids,” Torbert said. “Ask about the high points and the low points of their day.” This may include questions that center on whether they feel safe at school, at sports practice, in after-school programs, or while hanging out with friends. “This not only helps parents screen for bullying, it also fosters good parental relationships,” he said.
More often than not, children want to engage in conversation with their parents, even though you might have to dig a little deeper to get more than a shrug or “yes or no” answers. “No matter whether your child is in grade school, middle or high school, the importance remains the same. Set a precedent when kids are younger. Ask them what they’re worried about, anxious about or what they’re celebrating,” Torbert advised.
It’s important to continue these communication styles all the way through life. “Let your kids know you are a support system for them and that you are interested and engaged in their life and choices. As a society and as a community, we are in need of interaction with one another, and family is a place where that can happen,” Torbert said.
Signs of Bully Behavior
A key sign of bullying is not wanting to go to school, or avoiding activities or sports. “Sometimes kids will be honest, and sometimes you have to dig a little bit further and ask why,” Torbert said.
It’s good to teach kids to stand up for themselves. Not by fighting back with a punch for a punch or an insult for insult. “Teach them how to be their own advocate. To tell their parents, teachers, administrators or counselors if they are being bullied,” Torbert said.
Along with keeping lines of communication open, know who your kids are hanging out with and what they’re doing. This extends into online activity where bullying is just as hurtful or even more so.
If your child is on Facebook, make sure you’re his or her friend. Look into apps that monitor kids’ online activity. Set a time at night when all phones and devices are deposited, and this is a time when parents should screen images and texts on their child’s phone to check for bullying or any other inappropriate activity – and not feel bad about it, Torbert said. If kids have the privilege of having their own phone, it’s important to set clear guidelines and stick to them.
“Dinner time is a great time to establish an electronic-free zone. This means mom and dad put down their phones too,” he added.
Sometimes parents are startled to learn that their kid is the bully. If this is the case, it doesn’t mean that your child is “mean” by nature, but that there’s a reason why he or she is bullying others. This may involve seeing a counselor to get to the bottom of why the child is behaving this way, and teach more appropriate ways to relate.
The long-term effects of bullying depends on the child. Some experience psychological and emotional ramifications, and some come through the whole experience as a stronger person. “Whatever the case, it’s important that bullying be stopped,” Torbert said.