Bullied, why me?

OPINION

A week doesn’t go by where a person on Facebook complains their child has been bullied. I see on Twitter or Instagram that somebody is forced to quit a job or abandon a college course because of bullying by a superior or professor. Even locally, we find adult people on the Shelley Facebook page bullying others they disagree with.

Bullying can have life-changing consequences for many who experience it. For some, it can even be life-threatening. According to National Center for Educational Statistics 2019, one out of five people (20.2 percent) reported being bullied.

A higher percentage of male than female students reported being physically bullied (6 percent vs. 4 percent). In contrast, a higher rate of female than other male students reported being subject to rumors (18 percent v. 9 percent) and being excluded from activities (7 percent vs. 4 percent). 

Of those students who reported being bullied, 13 percent were made fun of, called names, or insulted, 13 percent were the subject of rumors, 5 percent were pushed, shoved, tripped, or spit on, and 5 percent were excluded from activities on purpose.  

A slightly higher portion of females than male students reported being bullied at school (24 percent vs. 17 percent).

Bullied students reported bully occurring in the following places, the hallways or stairwells at school (43 percent), in the classroom (42 percent), in the cafeteria (27 percent), outside of school on school grounds (22 percent), online or by text  (15 percent) in the bathroom or locker-room (12 percent), and on the school bus (8 percent). 

Forty-six percent of bullied students report notifying an adult at school about the incident. School-based prevention programs decrease bullying by up to 25 percent. 

The reasons for being bullied most often include physical appearance, race, ethnicity, gender, disability, religion, and sexual orientation.

EFFECTS OF BULLYING

Students who experience bullying are at increased risk for depression, anxiety, sleep difficulties, lower academic achievement, and dropping out. 

Students who are both targets of bullying and engage in bullying behavior are at greater risk for mental health and behavior problems than students who are only bullied. 

Bullied students indicate that bullying harms how they feel about themselves (27 percent), their relationships with friends and family (19 percent), and physical health (14 percent).  

HOW TO HANDLE A BULLY

Most parents believe the best way to protect their child is to go to teachers, school aids, and principals demanding protection for their child. However, the evidence above indicates that 46 percent of all bullying incidents are reported. Yet, even in schools where bullying is addressed, the effective rate of decrease is only 25 percent. This approach is not the best way to handle your child’s bullying.

The most effective way to handle a bullied child is to involve your child immediately. But how can you get them involved? They are the subject of abuse and need protection. They cannot be part of the solution.

But imagine your bullied child being a boxer in a boxing ring. As their coach, you wouldn’t ignore your child while spending time talking to the referees and judges to ensure the fight is fair, only to return ringside to watch your untrained child combat a trained bullier.

A better way is to spend your time teaching and educating your child about the bully and why they act out the way they do. This approach does not mean you necessarily need to enroll them in a martial arts course, but to teach them the dynamics of what is going on between them and the person bullying them. 

First, your child needs to feel they have control over the situation. If you are to go to school officials and others without involving your child, you reinforce that they are a victim and powerless against the bully. You want to ensure your child understands they are an integral part in overcoming the bullier.

UNDERSTANDING THE BULLY

The first thing you need to do in addressing a bully is figuring out what they are thinking or what motivates them to bully your child. You need to help your child analyze the situation and their relationship with the individual. This analysis is the most detailed and challenging part of the process. It takes time and can be frustrating for a parent who wants the bullying to stop immediately. But just like the boxer analogy above, the skills learned by going through this process will serve and protect your child against this bully and against future people who may bully them. 

Some bullying situations require law enforcement and cannot be handled alone by a child or parent. For example, a bully who threatens serious bodily harm to a person or an animal requires law enforcement. Also, a bully who makes serious threats toward property or threatens sexual assault needs law enforcement. However, those are extreme examples. Most parents working in conjunction with their children can handle most bullying situations.

Sometimes bullying occurs based on how a child is raised. If a child is raised in a home where certain conduct is condoned or encouraged, like physically beating each other up for something, they will treat your child the same way.

My wife and I have heard, “oh, boys will be boys; just let them work it out.” We never condoned this type of behavior in our home. So, we used this kind of situation to teach our children such behavior was unacceptable. There were better ways to work out differences than by using brute force. We encouraged our children to avoid being with children from families who used brute force to get their way.

While analyzing the bully’s mindset, you may find your own child is doing something to annoy them. Although this does not justify bullying, at least you can identify those things that initiate the bullying.

For example, while observing a grid kid football practice, I heard a boy, who appeared to be on the autism spectrum, make a disparaging remark toward another team member. At the time, I told him, “those are fighting words.” Several plays later, the kid laid him out flat with a tackle. While getting up, the boy said, “I hate him; he is always bullying me.” Unfortunately, the boy did not understand his words precipitated the bully’s action.

Sometimes a bully’s motives are more difficult to access. Maybe they have been bullied at home and take their aggression out at school. Perhaps they feel insecure and are finding a way to make themself feel better by publically mocking your child. 

Whatever the motive or the scheme is, you can teach your child to try and understand their position. In some ways, bullies are no different than your child. They have social needs and wants. They want to be accepted and liked. They differ from your child in their upbringing or their different disposition or insecurities. Once your child understands their position, they can set a plan to repel the bullying.

Sometimes this is nothing more than reaching out and being kind to the bully. Other times, it requires your child to ignore the bully or act as though their mocking does not affect them. It may require your child to repel a physical attack on them with immediate equal force. 

I know most schools have a no-violence policy. But, I have always told my children that if a bully hits them on the playground, they have the right to protect themselves in that setting. But, they have to be hit first and have said or done nothing to provoke it.  Then, they have the right to immediately repel the assault with equal force.    

GIRL BULLYING IS PHYSIOLOGICAL WARFARE    

Girl bullying is much more subversive and manipulating than guy bullying. First, girl bullying usually involves excluding girls from activities or making them feel worthless instead of physically attacking them. Furthermore, girl bullying usually occurs among so-called friends or in friend groups.  

These situations can cause your child to become co-dependent on other individuals for their attention or feel obligated to change who they are to be accepted by such people. Your child can never meet the bullier’s expectations in such abusive relationships. They are always putting down your child, making them feel unworthy of their friendship without changing some part of their personality. The sad thing about all of this is that the bully oftentimes doesn’t realize their words or action are hurtful.

Boys can also be subversive and manipulative as bullies, especially as they grow older, to other boys or young women. As a result, you have boys and girls getting into relationships where they become co-dependent on an out-of-control individual or are being potentially groomed to act a certain way to receive attention or affection.

You need to understand your child in these situations and know what type of person they want to be. Also, there needs to be an element of trust between you and your child so they are willing to listen to your advice.

If you see your child being pulled a certain way or feeling forced to act a certain way, you need to talk to them about their goals and values, who they see themself becoming, and if their values or goals are being compromised by associating with such people. Then, it would help if you made your child aware of the manipulation by asking them what their friends do that makes them feel hurt or sad. Ask them, “why do you think they are doing this to you? Do you think you deserve this type of treatment?” Let your child conclude they are being mistreated and what steps they can take to initiate their own will. Most importantly, please remind your child of their worth and how they don’t need to change, especially their goals or values for someone else.

The best advice a parent can give their inexperienced child is that you can count on one hand true friends in your life. True friends care about you no matter how you act or who you are. Everyone else is nothing more than an associate who slips into and out of your life and should have no real influence on who you are or what you want to become.

SUPPORT GROUP AND POSITIVE ROLE MODELS

Every child needs a safe support group. The most important thing a bullied child can have is a group of safe friends whom they can turn to for encouragement and self-affirmation. Child psychologists, I have spoken with all strongly encourage children who are bullied to find friends with common interests. Bullied children who have a group of friends who support and uplift them are more apt to confront and overcome bullying.

As parents, you can foster these relationships by allowing your child to invite these types of friends over to your home. Let your home be their hang-out for these individuals. At the same time, you can get to know them, view their behavior, and know if they are safe as a friend for your child.

It isn’t easy being a parent today. As people become more disconnected and fearful, and as family units disintegrate, the bullying will only increase. To effectively combat this ever-occurring offense in our children’s lives, we need to become more aware of our children’s surroundings and who they are associated with before they become a victim of bullying.  

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