Bullying Awarenes

Child Health | one year ago

What Every Parent Needs to Know About Bullying

Whether your child is being bullied, has bullied others or sees someone else being bullied, Atrium Health Levine Children’s can help you and your child navigate this tough topic.

Let’s play a quick game called “three myths and a fact.”

Myth: Bullying is just a phase. 

Myth: Bullying is a “rite of passage” we all must experience as kids. 

Myth: Bullying is a “character builder” that helps toughen us up for adulthood.

Fact: Recent research has shown that bullying is a serious public health concern among youth in the United States. A 2019 report by the CDC found that about 1 in 5 high school students reported being bullied on school property. More than 1 in 6 high school students reported being bullied electronically in the last year. 

Bullying is often trivialized as a “rough patch” we all go through as part of growing up. But kids who are bullied can have social, psychological, behavioral and academic issues that can last into adulthood. Those who bully others can also experience long-term effects, including drug and alcohol abuse, criminal activity and abusive relationships. 

Whether your child is being bullied, has bullied others or sees someone else being bullied, this expert guidance can help you and your child navigate the tough topic of bullying.

Reduce the Stigma

Bullying is described as unwanted, aggressive behavior among children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Bullying can happen anywhere to any kid. But false information can lead to increased rates of bullying, harassment and hate crimes against certain groups of people.

Part of the challenge of addressing bullying is that it can be masked by other labels. Dr. John Licata, a pediatrician at Atrium Health Levine Children’s Charlotte Pediatrics in Steele Creek, says teasing, negative comments and body shaming are still bullying, even if that particular word isn’t used.

“It’s important that parents explain what bullying is to their children and use that word to raise awareness instead of avoiding it because of the stigma surrounding the word ‘bullying,’” says Licata.

Help children realize that bullying can take different forms. It can be physical (pushing or hitting), verbal (name-calling or making threats) or emotional (spreading rumors or excluding a child from an activity or group). Bullying can also be obvious, like blatant attacks on an individual, and subtle, like denying someone friendship or giving someone the silent treatment. 

Spot the Warning Signs 

There are several ways to tell if a child is being bullied. Licata says warning signs may not be as obvious as struggling grades. 

“You may notice a sudden lack of interest in extracurricular activities or changes in classroom participation due to the social dynamics,” says Licata. 

Licata recommends paying attention to behavior that may be out of the ordinary for a child. For example, bringing home their lunch to avoid eating in the cafeteria or asking to be driven to school instead of riding the bus.

Have Clear Conversations  

It’s important to have an open line of communication with your child about bullying. You want them to feel safe discussing the topic with you so you can help them navigate these challenging social waters. Engage your child in conversations about bullying with questions like:

  • “What do you think bullies are like?” 
  • “Have you felt scared at school?” 
  • “Who do you talk to on the bus?”
  • “Are there a lot of cliques at school? What do you think about them?”
  • “Does anyone ever get left out of a game at recess? Does this ever happen to you?”
  • “Does your school have a way that you can report bullying? Do you feel comfortable doing that?”
  • “Since we’ve talked about bullying, what can I do to help?”

Your child may not be the one being bullied, but they can help support those who are. You can suggest that they help other children who are being bullied by being kind or getting help.

“Try to empower the child that they have a voice, and they don’t have to put up with whatever bullying is happening,” says Licata. “They can speak up and tell someone.”

For cyberbullying, Licata says you can talk to your child about cyber safety and establish healthy boundaries, like limiting screentime. Be sure your child knows to not share their email or social media passwords with anyone, even their best friends, and help them understand what is appropriate to share online. You can also utilize parental controls for the internet and devices. 

Enlist Backup

Whether your child is being bullied, has bullied others or is present when someone else is being bullied, there are many resources available to help parents and their kids deal with bullying.

Licata recommends being engaged with teachers and school staff – whether your child is doing well at school or not – so all parties can stay in the loop. 

Pediatricians are also making a concerted effort to screen kids for bullying, typically starting around age six. 

“There are multiple ways we screen,” says Licata. “Directly, through concerns brought up in the exam room, and indirectly, with parent and patient questionnaires offered at well-child appointments.” 

Licata says providers can be a neutral party and help kids realize that bullying can take different forms and have different levels of severity. 

“While they might not use the word ‘bullying’ for in-person or online interactions, a parent, teacher or provider may need to help the child understand what behavior is appropriate and inappropriate based on their responses on the questionnaire,” says Licata.

Pediatricians may not be embedded in a child’s school or extracurricular activities, but they can serve as a trusted resource connecting parents and children with the care they need to manage the reality of bullying and its repercussions. 

Connect with your pediatrician on how to spot the warning signs of bullying and talk with your child about it. Need a pediatrician? Start here.