Think bullying is just harmless teasing? An estimated 160,000 children across the country miss school every day due to fear of attack or intimidation by other students, according to the National Education Association. And Yale health researchers have found a connection between suicide — the fourth leading cause of death in children ages 10 to 14 — and bullying and being bullied.
Experts say that kids themselves have the power to put a stop to bullying. Unfortunately, both victims and bystanders don’t always know the best way to handle bullying situations as they occur.
“Most kids feel terrible when they see friends or classmates get bullied. They want to help, but they don’t know what to do,” says Alice Cahn, Cartoon Network Vice President of Social Responsibility. “Having strategies for these situations can help prepare children to intervene when the time comes.”
With this in mind, in 2010 Cartoon Network launched the award-winning Stop Bullying: Speak Up to educate kids on what to do when they see classmates being bullied. In partnership with official advisors, including staff from the US Departments of Education and Health and Human Services; and partners including CNN, The Anti-Defamation League, the Pacer Foundation, and nationally recognized academic experts, the bullying prevention campaign aims to put a stop to this common and serious problem.
Tormenting through technology
We used to be able to identify a bully. He was the fellow pushing a smaller guy into the locker, or the young lady making a point of excluding the less popular girl. Now, we don’t see the bully. He or she is on the other end of an electronic device (phone, tablet, computer) and is tormenting or threatening or annoying or impersonating someone perceived as weak or different. The behavior is cyber-bullying and can happen at any time and reach all over the world.
Research suggests that cyber-bullying is especially prevalent among students in grades 6-8, that 15-35% of youngsters report being bullied via technology, and those the bullies are just as likely to be men as women. As technology improves, cyber-bullies are finding more way to cause pain and suffering to their victims.
Sending taunting messages or sharing confidential personal information is the simple ways to do it, but not the only one. Commenting on another’s website (“Fattest kid at Union School”) or setting up a site of photos inviting viewers to vote for the ugliest or stupidest is another.
Savvy bullies can hack someone’s computer, pose as that person and deluge others with obnoxious texts, or lock the account owner of his favorite game sites. Pictures are easy targets, too; a bully can post nasty comments, alter photos in an unflattering way, or take embarrassing photos and post them on the subject’s site. In extreme cases, the bully might threaten to harm or kill the victim, or suggest that the victim harm himself.
School officials, law enforcement agencies, and mental health professionals are working to shed light on the practice and support victims who might be reluctant to report being targeted. Sites like ncpc.org (the National Crime Prevention Council) offer young people and their parents tips on how to respond to cyber-bullying.
Who is at risk?
Adolescents of any kind are easy targets for cyber-bullies. Their need for acceptance, and their struggles with body image and the power of peer pressure make them vulnerable, and any kid could end up on the receiving end of bullying. However, the urge for conformity means that those who look or act different are easier targets for bullies.
That applies especially to lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans gender youth. All adolescents struggle with relationships with their peers while working out their sexual
identities. But taunting words and pictures can be especially painful for LGBT teens, who worry about how their choices will be received by family and friends.
Another target group includes those with physical or social limitations. It’s not difficult to see why a kid in a wheelchair or a shy person, both perceived by bullies as weaknesses, would draw attention. It is also easy to understand why those same kids, already feeling conspicuous because of their “disabilities” might hesitate to report any abuse and call more attention to themselves as tattle tales.
Shy kids, those who find forming friendships difficult, and those who prefer to study or play alone, are easily bullied. A bully will tell lies about why Johnny has no friends or pretend to be a nasty texter using the name or account of a usually-shy person. It’s all nasty, and it’s all cyber-bullying.
Parents and teachers who live and work with adolescents know that the teen years are marked by insecurity and immaturity. Acne, height or lack of it, athletic prowess or absence of such, wardrobe, neighborhood, even the cars a kid’s parents drive might be fodder for examination and comment. It should be no surprise that something as integral to one’s life as his/her sexuality or personality would be equally interesting to those tempted or encouraged by others to comment in unkind or threatening ways.
Is your child being bullied? Be aware of the warning signs
Increasing numbers of youngsters are being victimized by their peers. Happily, psychologists and teachers are noticing and publicizing the signs that a student is being bullied.
Those signs might include:
Changes in attitude toward friends or
Loss or destruction of personal property, especially electronics, jewelry, books,
Declining grades, unnatural anxiety about going to school
Injuries that can’t be explained
Unexplained changes in eating or sleeping patterns
In cyber-bullying situations that have escalated, victims might run away from home or indulge in self-destructive behavior
like cutting or, in too many cases, suicide.
Bullies are emboldened when a victim is afraid to report abuse, an all too common situation. The victim may hesitate to be a “snitch,” believing the perpetrator will cause harm to him and/or his family. The silence often leads to more satisfaction for the bully and the possibility of increased bullying behavior.
Experts are learning to tell youngsters to inform a trusted adult at the first sign of cyber-bullying and to keep written copies of all threats or pictures. Parents are encouraged to discuss cyber-bullying with their children, keeping the lines of communication open about who their on-line friends are, what their Facebook sites contain, and what kind of language, photos, and information are appropriate to share on-line.
Signs your child is bullying others
While bullies often come from families where bullying is familiar behavior, many youngsters do not. They may not appreciate the nastiness or their actions, or honestly believe that what they write and post are simply jokes. But even in those cases, parents are often surprised and horrified to discover that their children have been threatening or tormenting others.
How to tell is your child is acting as a bully? Friends who are known for bullying acts might be a sign that one’s child might be persuaded to follow his friends’ example. The youngster who gets into verbal or physical fights with peers, or appears increasingly aggressive with others might be bullying those who perceives as unable to defeat him. The child who suddenly produces new possessions (new clothing, new electronic devices) or money and can’t explain how he came to afford them might be using violence to take them from others. The child who blames others for all his troubles, or who worries about his reputation, but doesn’t accept responsibility for his own actions in tarnishing that reputation might be bullying others. Increased visits to the principal’s office or accumulating detentions for inappropriately aggressive behavior merit examination.
Parents who keep an eye on their children’s online behavior will discover if their sons and daughters are amused by acts of bullying or talk about such acts as if they are funny or entertaining.
Parents who hear their children mock others or belittle those who report bullying would do well to take a close look at their kids’ email, camera photos and online posts.
There are no legitimate authority figures in the cyber world, so keeping kids safe from online bullies has to begin at home.
Tell youngsters to inform a trusted adult at the first sign of cyber-bullying.
The pro-social campaign is offering these tips for parents and kids to help stop bullying in their schools:
Tell an adult: When someone gets bullied, tell a parent, teacher or trusted adult. Talking about it isn’t tattling or snitching. It’s helping someone out.
Be friendly: Bullying can make a victim feel alienated and lonely. Saying a few kind words to the person who has been bullied makes a huge difference.
Volunteer: Your school’s bullying prevention program needs parents and students to help encourage everyone to speak up against bullying.
Say it loud: Ask your school to fly or display the official Stop Bullying: Speak Up flag, which indicates that the school is a place where bullying actions will not be tolerated.
Learn more: Free online resources can help you learn how to deal with bullies. Visit StopBullyingSpeakUp.com to access public service announcements, two 30-minute documentaries and tips sheets for parents and teachers that offer a step-by-step guide for safe and effective ways to be an active bullying bystander. The site also provides links to the Anti-Defamation League, Boys and Girls Club of America and other partners providing expert advice about bullying. All materials are available in English and Spanish.
“Don’t stop there,” says Cahn. “These resources are meant to spark a conversation.”
No child should feel like his or her school is not a safe place to learn. Parents, teachers and students can work together to make a difference.
For more information visit stopbullying.gov