Our daughter is new to middle school this year. She is quite petite for her age. She has hinted that some older girls have been picking on her at school, but she hasn’t given us any details. With bullying so much in the news, I’m afraid that my daughter is becoming a victim. I’m not sure if I should intervene or let her take care of the situation herself. What are the signs of bullying and when is enough enough? Should I take matters into my own hands or will I make matters worse? - Dede and Scott R.
It’s always a dilemma for parents to determine when to intervene and when to let a child take care of things herself. Although there is a fine line between the two, it is critical for parents to be aware of what’s happening to their child before, during and after school hours. The best way to know what’s really going on is to keep the lines of communication open between you and your daughter. It doesn’t hurt to do a little investigation yourself by speaking with other parents or talking with your daughter’s friends when the opportunity naturally presents itself.
What is bullying all about?
Talk with your daughter about her school life in general. Ask about her classes, daily homework, long term assignments and projects, friends, teachers, classmates, the kids she has lunch with and even the kids who ride her school bus. The more you know, the more you’ll have to discuss with your daughter. Your discussions will give some context to help you understand what’s going on at school.
Help your daughter understand what bullying is. Dan Olweus, creator of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, provides us with this commonly accepted definition for bullying in his book, “Bullying at School: What We Know and What We Can Do.” A person is bullied when he or she is exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more other persons and he or she has difficulty defending himself or herself. This definition includes three important components: bullying is aggressive behavior that involves unwanted, negative actions; bullying involves a pattern of behavior repeated over time; bullying involves an imbalance of power or strength.
Initiate a discussion specifically on bullying, behaviors of bullies and the roles that others play in bullying situations. Explain that there are at least 4 kinds of people in every bullying situation: the bully, the victim, the intervener and the ignorer.
- The bully is the active aggressor in the situation who name calls, puts people down, makes threats, causes physical harm, spreads mean rumors about others or ostracizes some people from a group. The bully can use words or physical behaviors to intimidate a victim.
- The victim is the person who is bullied and is the target of the aggressive words or behaviors of the bully.
- The intervener is the person who observes the interaction between the bully and the victim and makes an effort to help the victim and/or stop the bully from continuing to harm the victim.
- The ignorer is the person who observes the interaction between the bully and the victim and remains passive by doing nothing to help the victim or stop the bully from harming the victim.
As you describe the roles of the people involved in bullying, ask some questions to determine if your daughter feels that she is in a dangerous, uncomfortable or isolating situation. Olweus further clarifies additional roles that people play in bullying situations in The Bullying Circle on his website.
What are the signs of bullying?
All students deserve to feel safe at school, during after school activities and at school sponsored events whether at home or away. Victims of bullying often exhibit changes in behavior, mood and school performance. These signs of bullying can last long into your child’s future: depression, low self-esteem, physical ailments, lower grades or expressions of suicidal tendencies.
Look for signs of depression and loss of interest in activities that were usually of interest to your child. Listen for your child’s comments that indicate low self-esteem. Notice if your child is complaining of stomach aches, headaches or other health issues more often than in the past. Watch for drops in school grades. Be aware of your child’s academic success. If there are noticeable changes in the quality of her work, take action by speaking with the teacher and trying to determine the root cause of the change. And finally, if your daughter expresses any thoughts about ending her life, wishing she were dead or other similar comments, intervene immediately with a visit to the pediatrician, school counselor or mental health professional.
The bottom line is for you to be aware of the signs that your daughter is being bullied and the resulting changes in her attitude or behavior. Enough is when your daughter’s health and well-being are being impacted and/or she is showing changed attitudes or behaviors that are unlike her and unacceptable to you. This is the time to act.
Actions may include talking with your daughter to gather more information; conferring with a counselor, principal or school psychologist; scheduling a visit to the pediatrician or meeting with a health professional. The United Way Agency offers dozens of low cost and free mental health related resources.
“You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” ~ Buddha
Visit this anti-bullying blog for more information: http://antibullyingblog.blogspot.com/
October is National Stop Bullying Month, check out these resources: http://heyugly.org/NationalStopBullyingDay.php
Learn more about Director, Lee Hirsch’s movie, “The Bully Project”: http://www.thebullyproject.com/
Find out more about CNN’s Anderson Cooper’s report on “Bullying: It Stops Here”: http://ac360.blogs.cnn.com/2011/10/08/bullying-it-stops-here-snapshots/?iref=obinsite