Bullying has long been considered a harmless part of childhood, but it is anything but harmless. Bullying can be devastating for children and teens, leading to depression, self esteem problems, health issues, lower grades and even suicide.
The National Association of School Psychologists estimates that 160,000 American children miss school each day for fear of being bullied.
The Mailbox, a resource for teachers, says to teach children these possible reactions when they are faced with bullying, depending on the situation:
* Ignore the bully and continue with your activity.
* Ask the bully in a friendly way to stop—for example, "Hey, cut it out, would you?" or "Cool it, okay?"
* Make eye contact with the bully and firmly tell him or her to stop—for example, "Knock it off right now."
* Walk away from the bully.
* Ask an adult for help.
It's often not enough to simply tell kids what to do, however. They may be dealing with multiple children or dangerous situations, or they may not feel that anything will work.
What can you do to help protect your child from bullying? Here are 12 things that can help bullyproof your child:
- Take it seriously. Bullying is not a rite of passage or a harmless part of childhood. It is a damaging, abusive act of aggression that robs children of their self esteem, security and happiness.
- Report it. Inform teachers, bus drivers or other adults in charge if you find out your child is being bullied in their care. If you are not satisfied with the actions taken, go higher. By law, they are required to deal with bullying and keep your child safe.
- Talk to your child. Talk about times in your own childhood when you were bullied, along with how you felt and what you did. Kids can feel alone in this situation and it can help to hear that others went through similar things. Also talk about what can help, such as body language and how to appear confident even when you don't feel it.
- Listen to your child and ask questions. Kids are often very reluctant to tell parents when they're being bullied. They may feel embarrassed or they may think you'll blame them or that you won't understand. Ask questions, and don't assume your child is not being bullied just because it's never been mentioned. For some children, bullying can actually get worse after they report it, because the bully becomes even angrier. Many children see this as a sign that it's a mistake to tell adults and keep it a secret from then on. Be sure you know the whole story and don't make assumptions.
- Help build up your child's support system. Friendships provide multiple protections against bullies. Bullies tend to target loners and kids that are perceived as on their own. Friendships also build children's feelings of self worth and help balance out the bad guys in their lives. You can help by providing lots of social opportunities for your child, such as scouting groups, club memberships, classes and other group settings that match your child's interests. Also make it easier for your kids to make individual friends, such as hosting sleepovers and providing transportation for get togethers.
- Help build up your child's self esteem. Kids are often targeted because bullies pick up on feelings of low self worth. Support your child's interests and talents. Give your child outlets and opportunities to express artistic abilities, learn new skills, enhance athletic abilities and pursue passions.
- Check out The Bully, the Bullied and the Bystander by AP author Barbara Coloroso. Also visit Coloroso's web site for more bullying information. Be sure to download the Bully Handout, which has information like warning signs that your child is being bullied, why kids don't tell and the four most powerful antedotes to bullying (a strong sense of self, being a friend, having a good friend who is there for you and being part of a social group).
- Follow Pacer on Facebook. This Minnesota-based organization has expanded to help children nationally and internationally on issues of disabilities, bullying and more. The Facebook page provides many updates on new resources, videos and other tools for parents and teachers.
- Check out the Bullies to Buddies site, which has videos for parents, kids, teachers, mental health professionals and others to teach them how to psychologically undermine bullies. Be sure to check out the ten steps to stop being teased and bullied without really trying.
- Keep your child's online world safe. Kids are often bullied through the internet. Talk to your kids about safety measures to take online. If your child is harassed online, report it to the perpetrator's internet provider.
- Enroll your child in martial arts classes. While it is helpful when children are able to physically protect themselves, these types of classes also give kids other tools -- self confidence, another support system and feelings of empowerment.
- Remove your child from the environment. If you take action and the bullying does not stop, look for other options. If your child is being seriously bullied in school, consider transferring schools or homeschooling. While this may sound extreme, the harsh reality is that extreme bullying is devastating and no child should have to suffer through it. Studies have found that children who are being bullied are two to nine times more likely to report thoughts of suicide. In light of this, no action we can take to protect our children is too extreme.
Chances are, none of us would tell our friends or spouses to stay in a job where people were robbing them, beating them, harassing them, threatening them and making them physically ill from stress. Children should not be expected to live under those sorts of circumstances either.
There are many tools we can give our kids to help protect them from this kind of victimization. The most important one is our attention and our assurance that we take it seriously and will give them the safe, supportive environment they deserve.
Note: This is a revised form of an article that originally ran in this column in 2010, updated to correct outdated formatting and links. Subscribe to be notified when new articles are published in this column.