By Kelly Olson
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, The Village Family Service Center
No parents wants their child to be bullied, and it can be painful to see it happening to your son or daughter. It’s important to understand that without intervention, bullying can have real consequences.
These include mental health problems like depression, suicidal thoughts, anxiety about going to school, cutting, or isolation. Bullying can result in violence, either by the bully or by the victim in response to the bullying. Bullying can also lead to poor school attendance and/or performance, as well as an increase in risky behaviors, such as drinking or drugs. Sometimes a child may take extreme measures to make the bullying stop.
How do you know if your child is being bullied? Here are some signs to watch for:
- Decreased academic performance
- Increase in somatic complaints such as headaches or stomachaches
- Skipping school
- Fighting at school
- Isolation beyond what is usual for teens
- Self-injurious behavior, such as cutting
- Change in friends, acting strange around typical friends or claiming they are no longer friends
- Sleep changes (more or less)
- Acting anxious when you mention school
Parents should try to understand what kind of bullying is taking place. Is it verbal, such as calling names or stating threats, or physical, which would involve actions like hitting, shoving, or tripping? Psychological bullying happens when the bully embarrasses the victim in public, or subjects him/her to social ridicule. Media-based bullying takes place on social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, or via emails that are threatening or abusive.
So, what can a parent do?
- Listen to your child. Really listen. Don’t try to minimize your child’s feelings.
- Take it seriously. Don’t place blame. Seek first to understand.
- Praise your child for bringing it to your attention.
- Understand the situation and when and where the bullying is happening. Have your child show you the proof if he or she can. Keep the documentation.
- Understand your child’s role in the bullying, both to minimize and increase it. Is your child posting attention-getting content that is controversial and could increase his or her likelihood of being a target?
- Ask your child what he or she has done to alleviate the bullying. Has she talked to a teacher, or unfriended the perpetrator on Facebook?
- Understand the school’s policy about bullying and the steps to address it.
- Talk with a teacher and/or principal about the problem.
- Seek mental health assistance.
What should a child do?
- Surround yourself with your friends, especially in situations when you know the bully will target you.
- Talk about it. Tell a teacher, tell your parents.
- Don’t physically fight back. This often leads to more problems for you.
- Don’t engage the bully. Ignore him or her. Walk away.
- Have a plan with your friends and/or your teachers to address the bully.
If your family needs mental health assistance due to bullying or other issues, The Village can help. Call 800-627-8220 or request an appointment online.