Fifteen-year-old Phoebe Prince committed suicide after being repeatedly bullied at her high school. This case is one of at least six recent documented stories of similar teen suicides due in part to reported bullying.
What is bullying?
Bullying is when someone engages in a pattern of repeated verbal, physical or psychological abuse designed to exert power or control over others. Bullies often choose victims who may be different because of their appearance, race, sexual orientation or even behavior (such as someone who is shy or quiet).
Bullying isn’t new–we have all heard of or experienced verbal taunts and physical threats or violence. We’re now hearing more stories about cyberbullyingon e-mail, MySpace or Facebook. The abuse can be relentless and intolerable and can lead to victims missing school, illness, depression, and even, in the case of Phoebe Prince, death. Research shows there’s a strong link between bullying and mental health.
Why should we care about the bully?
Most bullies have a tremendous need to control and dominate the victim. Many bullies were bullied or even physically abused, leaving them feeling insecure and angry. They bully because they often feel weak and out of control.
Bullies learn that putting others down can momentarily make them feel stronger. They often surround themselves with a cheering section to feed their ego (such as the movie “Mean Girls,” where Regina George is looked up to–and feared–by the girls in her clique). Some bullies may be unable to feel others’ pain and may have depression or antisocial traits. If this problem is recognized early, they can get psychological help, which could stop them from repeating their pattern later in life.
What should you do if you think your child is being bullied? Or if your child is the bully?
- Pay attention to your child’s behavior. Kids will not usually tell you right away they are being bullied, and the signs may not be immediately noticeable. So pay attention to sudden changes. If they don’t want to go to school, seem withdrawn or more anxious, ask them what’s going on. Step in and talk to a school psychologist or a teacher. School staff can be helpful in coming up with ways to help your child cope with the bully or changing the classroom environment.
- If you have a teen, encourage your child to join a club or a group at school. Helping out a teen is a little trickier as most want to manage their own problems. Most bullies chose victims who are isolated–there is strength in numbers from clubs or groups. Teach your teen not to react to the bully. Spend time with your teens so they’ll confide in you more and let you know if the situation gets worse.
- Act right away if things get worse. Remember, bullying isn’t normal; being the target isn’t a rite of passage. Contact the school. Your child may be one of many who being bullied, and the problem could be a much larger one. Your child may be upset that you interfered, but there are ways to work through those feelings.
- Talk with a school psychologist. Being repeatedly bullied can lead to school absences, illness, depression and worse. If your teen has been traumatized, meeting with the school psychologist can help prevent further emotional scars.
- Pay attention to signs of your child acting as a bully. Don’t ignore the signs and don’t assume they will grow out of it. Bullying is a learned behavior and it can be changed! Do get help for your child – talk to your school counselor or psychologist for suggestions. Social skills training can be very helpful as well.