Unfortunately, despite ongoing attempts to stop bullying, it still very much exists, and as the cyber world becomes ever more available to our youngsters, so does the threat of bullying. To tie in with National anti-bullying week, we discuss how to spot if your child is being bullied, the different types of bullying and what you can do to try and help them.
What is bullying?
Bullying is usually defined as repeated behaviour which is intended to hurt someone, either emotionally or physically. It can often be aimed at people because of their race, religion, gender or sexual orientation. Foster children can often be susceptible to bullying this is due to a number of factors -they don’t live at home, they may be very shy or extremely precocious, they may seem quite isolated or they may lack in self-confidence and be ‘easy prey’ for bullies.
Verbal / physical bullying
Most people will experience verbal bullying at some point in their lives: name calling or insults that can relate to anything from weight to appearance. They can involve racist, sexist or homophobic comments or even personal attacks on family, as awful as that sounds, anyone passing a group of kids in the street will see that this can be usual behaviour. It is also common to see kids punch each other or appear to be wrestling each other to the floor. In many cases it is not meant with any malice, it is just banter, but sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference between the two.
When name-calling or physical assault persists, it can be very upsetting, even if your child is told it is just a joke. If they feel uncomfortable, hurt or upset and they have asked them to stop, but they don’t, this could be seen as bullying.
In the last decade there has been massive growth in online sites aimed at kids: Facebook, Twitter, Bebo, YouTube, MySpace, instant messaging, Snapchat… the list is endless. Cyber bullying takes place over these networks and includes things like stolen identity, threats, blackmail, abusive comments and nasty pictures. Although you think it would be easy to just turn off the computer and walk away, children and young people spend a huge amount of time on social networks and place a great deal of importance on their profiles. There have been many news reports in the last year in which children have faced persistent abuse online and have had incorrect facts and nasty photographs posted up.
What makes a bully?
It is difficult to understand why people want to hurl insults at others for no reason, but children often do it to try and show they have power. In the battle to be the coolest kid at school, they put others down to show their strength. It can also be because they have low self-esteem themselves or are having problems at home or school; kids often cannot deal with things the way adults do and they express their anger, upset and frustration in negative ways. This doesn’t make it right, but it does help us understand the motivation.
How to spot your child is being bullied
Someone who is being bullied might act like they are ok on the outside, but inside it is a whole different story. They might feel as if they can’t tell anyone for risk of looking stupid, or fear that it might make it worse. They also might start to believe what they are being told and suffer from low self-esteem. Watch out for signs of your child acting anxiously or becoming more withdrawn. They may become quite angry and frustrated and take it out on you, or even other children. Ironically children that are bullied can often become bullies themselves.
Sometimes it is incredibly hard to spot and those that have managed to bottle up their emotions will at some point crack. At the extreme, a child can feel so isolated and unhappy that they might develop an eating disorder or start to meddle with drink or drugs.
What to do if you think your child is being bullied
If you’re fun-loving teen suddenly starts to hate school, or won’t go out with friends, ask why. If they avoid social media or stop interacting with the family, don’t just automatically put it down to teenage behaviour. Keep a close eye for warning signs and speak to their teachers to find out if they have noticed anything unusual too. Monitor their computer to see which sites they are using and help them understand that nothing in cyber space is secret. Most importantly, be a constant and reliable support for you young person so that they feel that they do have someone who cares for them and someone they can turn to.