The act of bullying in school is by no means a new phenomenon. However, the extent, severity, intensity and methods have certainly escalated to very worrisome levels. What could parents do to ameliorate these torturous and sometimes lethal behaviors?
Dr. Dan Olweus, a Norwegian researcher, is the creator of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, now used in U.S. schools with positive results. He defines the three major components of bullying behavior as, “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.”
In his research questionnaire, Dr. Olweus asks students about the nine areas of bullying,
“Verbal bullying including derogatory comments and bad names, bullying through social exclusion or isolation, physical bullying such as hitting, kicking, shoving, and spitting, bullying through lies and false rumors, having money or other things taken or damaged by students who bully, being threatened or being forced to do things by students who bully, racial bullying, sexual bullying, cyber bullying.”
Cyber bullying is a relatively new, yet prevalent form of harassment. 2004 i-SAFE survey of 1,500 students grades 4-8 reports, “42% of kids have been bullied while online. 1 in 4 have had it happen more than once. 35% of kids have been threatened online. Nearly 1 in 5 have had it happen more than once. 21% of kids have received mean or threatening e-mail or other messages. 58% of kids admit someone has said mean or hurtful things to them online. More than 4 out of 10 say it has happened more than once. 53% of kids admit having said something mean or hurtful to another person online. More than 1 in 3 have done it more than once. 58% have not told their parents or an adult about something mean or hurtful that happened to them online.”
This data is troubling. The early onset of this conduct by more than half of ten to fourteen year olds, who are brazen enough to verbally malign another child, or be bullied and not report it to their parents, is of great concern. The impersonal attack on line may facilitate greater cruelty and intimidation.
General bullying in school reported in a 2001 study of 15,000 U.S. students showed that, “17 percent of students in grades 6-10 reported having been bullied ‘sometimes’ or more, with 8 percent being bullied once a week. 19 percent said they had been a bully to others ‘sometimes’ or more.”
The psychological ramifications of being verbally bullied, socially excluded, negatively portrayed, lied about and falsely accused of mal-intentions and actions, often cause low self-esteem, loneliness, fear, shame, change in school performance, depression and even suicidal thoughts. A recent case in the news documented the impact of bullying on a tortured teenager whose pain was so insufferable that it led to her suicide.
Adults cannot stand idly while their children are either being bullied or are the bullies.
• Listen to your children’s attitude towards other youngsters. If you hear derogatory or exclusionary language firmly assert that this attitude is unacceptable. All children are precious, even the ones they do not like.
• Teach your children to identify and deepen their empathy for others. Ask them how often they imagine themselves in the position of a shunned child? How would they feel if they were rejected and lied about?
• Supervise your children’s use of cyber contact with their peers. They are NOT entitled to privacy in Internet use until they are adults.
• If you become aware of any child being a bully or being bullied, inform the teacher, principal and even the police. You may be sparing a child great misery and may even save a life.
• Model for your children acceptance, inclusion, positive regard and kindness towards others. Your children are likely to emulate your ways.