As a Jr. High teacher I have to admit unfortunately, that I see bullying almost on a daily basis ~ some bullying behaviors are worse than others BUT it is still BULLYING! I have a strict policy in my classroom which I hope and pray travels throughout the rest of my building and my students lives ~ Treat people the way you want to be treated! It seems so simple but yet adolescence is so hard and often times a child may end up treating people the opposite just to “fit in” or because of peer pressure. I am also a mother of 3 ~ a son in high school, a son in jr. high, and a daughter in elementary school.
As a mom and teacher of a child/student who has been bullied I want to share this post with all those who are struggling with their child in this area too. Is it typical adolescent behavior or a potential bullying problem?
The profile of the adolescent bully is changing from the schoolyard thug who extorts fistfuls of lunch money to a more covert operator who avoids face-to-face confrontations in favor of phones and Facebook.
The harmful results remain the same, however. Targets of bullies can suffer from physical injuries, social exclusion, depression and, in extreme cases, self-harm and death. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers bullying a form of youth violence and calls “electronic aggression” an emerging public health problem. And no wonder. Adolescence is hard enough, complicated by hormones and a gauntlet of intense transformations. Throw into that the power struggles, relationship roller coasters and intimidation that are the hallmarks of bullying. Parents are left to decipher a difficult riddle: How can I tell if my child is being bullied or is being a bully? And what’s just normal adolescent behavior?
1. Complaints about headaches or stomachaches
This is the easiest way for kids to justify not going to school, says Megan O’Laughlin, a licensed independent clinical social worker in Seattle who counsels troubled teens and families. The symptoms could be real (caused by anxiety or injury) or just an excuse to avoid a potential encounter. According to the 2011 Indicators of School Crime and Safety, a joint publication by the U.S. Depts. of Justice and Education, five percent of students ages 12 through 18 reported missing a school activity or staying home because they feared being harmed by another student.
Parents should rule out legitimate medical concerns, especially if the complaints continue or if the child seems to be experiencing real pain. A trip to the doctor, O’Laughlin says, might have an added benefit: Kids who are too embarrassed to talk about bullying with their parents are sometimes willing to talk it out with a doctor.
2. Unexplainable injuries, from others or self
O’Laughlin says kids are “pretty creative” when it comes to inflicting pain, recalling an incident in which a child swung a backpack full of books at another while passing in the hall. She advises parents to look for bruises, cuts or scratches that aren’t consistent with sports or physical activity. The School Crime and Safety report says 28 percent of American adolescents were bullied in 2009. Of those, almost one-tenth said they were pushed, shoved, tripped or spit on.
Parents should also look for signs of self-harm. A 2012 study from King’s College in London, published in the British Medical Journal, found that bullied children engaged in more self-destructive behavior than children who were not bullied: cutting arms, pulling out clumps of hair, head-banging walls and attempting suicide. The same study said self-harm was higher among children with complicating factors, such as family history of attempted suicide, mental health issues or physical abuse.
3. Changes in attitude, behavior and achievement at school
Illogical or sudden changes related to school — such as skipping classes, missing the bus and asking for a ride instead, walking a different route or losing interest in grades — might be another sign. A 2010 UCLA study that appeared in the Journal of Early Adolescence asked 2,300 middle schoolers if they’d been bullied, using a 4 point scale of increasing intensity. Researchers found that a 1 point increase on that scale could result in a drastic 1.5 point decrease in GPA in one academic subject.
Natalie Stone, a middle school counselor in Moscow, Idaho, also advises parents to see if kids are meeting “typical developmental milestones” at school. For example, she says, “If everyone around them is getting their (driving) learner’s permit and your kid has no interest; if your kid doesn’t want to go to dances; if your kid is backpedaling and it’s out of character, it could be a symptom of bullying.”
4. Lost or damaged property
Lost valuables such as electronics, toys, jewelry, food and money could be associated with bullying, even though the intentional destruction of property, according to the School Crime and Safety report, is actually the least common form of bullying, behind name-calling, spreading rumors, physical harm, threats and exclusion from social activities.
But it still happens. While teens often misplace their things, the telling clue for a parent worried concerned about a potential bullying situation, O’Laughlin says, might be if the child doesn’t not know where it went, or tries to avoid talking about it. On the front lines, though, Stone thinks cases of outright theft and destruction seem to be decreasing. “It’s easier to say, so and so stole my iPhone. It’s a more traceable thing. The police can get involved,” she says. “Stealing is considered wrong. But being mean to someone is not.”
5. Changes with friends and social circles
Watch out if your child suddenly changes social circles, stops being invited to things, or seems withdrawn from friends they used to be close with. Bullying is often about isolating the victim. And some bullies are likely to attack relationships. “There might be a ringleader and certain social activities are being affected,” O’Laughlin says. But it’s tricky to tell, she cautions. Kids can be bullied and still have friends, and many adolescents experiment with new roles and relationships. Stone, the middle school counselor, says parents who suspect something need to “have their antennae up and pay attention to their kid’s mood when they come from a certain kid’s house or a certain activity.”
One other thing parents might look out for is if other adults in the same school, class or program are talking about bullying. It might signal a lack of supervision or a bully who is getting away with something.
6. Changes in sleeping or eating habits
If a kid is seriously being targeted by a bully, their “nervous system is in overdrive,” says O’Laughlin, the social worker. “They’re in the fight-or-flight response mode. They’re in a stressed-out state.” And that could affect basic bodily functions like sleeping and eating.
Children might avoid the lunchroom during the school day, then come home ravenous and binge. That could lead to stomach cramps. Other clues might be evidence of eating disorders or a large amount of short-term weight gain or loss, caused by stress. Anxiety can also keep children up at night or cause bad dreams.
7. Reluctance/avoidance/inability to talk about it
The School Crime and Safety report found that students who were bullied notified an adult of the situation only 36 percent of the time. Perhaps predictably, adults become involved less and less as the child gets older. Girls tend to report bullying more than boys do.
Kids might not want the “tattletale” label or they might fear further backlash from the bully. Maybe the bullying is too humiliating or painful or painful to talk about, such as an embarrassing picture or rumor being sent to classmates’ cellphones. Or it could simply be a matter of the child not understanding that what’s happening is wrong. O’Laughlin works with parents who wonder why their teens can’t just open up and talk about it. “Where some kids are at developmentally, you might have to give them some space to process it,” she says. “They might need some education from the adults around them.”
8. Intense feelings of hopelessness, shame and depression
Teenagers are trying out independence, and might want to handle bullying on their own. “They might feel like they’ve tried everything and nothing’s going to change,” O’Laughlin says. At that point, the more intense, darker feelings make sense, she says, and it’s not out of the question for really destructive behaviors to begin.
“Research strongly supports the view that all forms of bullying and peer victimization are clear risk factors for depression and suicidal thinking,” Richard Lieberman and Katherine Cowan wrote in “Bullying and Youth Suicide,” a 2011 report created in collaboration with the National Association of School Psychologists. “Certain populations of students are especially vulnerable to developing suicidal ideation and behaviors as a result of bullying: students who are cyberbullied; students with disabilities and mental health problems; and students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning.”
9. Tendency to solve problems with conflict and violence
One of the biggest signs your child might be a bully is an inability to accept responsibility or solve problems effectively. “They might blame others for things that are going on,” O’Laughlin says. “I know from doing counseling with kids like that, general things like playing a card game, kids might have a hard time accepting that they’re not winning.” Bullies can be aggressive (passive-aggressive counts, too), talk trash or try to dominate and control.
Some consider adolescent bullying a “gateway” criminal behavior. According to the National Education Association’s position statement on Bullying and Harassment, “Boys identified as bullies in grades six through nine had one criminal conviction by age 24. Forty percent of those identified had three or more arrests by age 30. Bullies are at even greater risk of suicide than their targets. Bullies often grow up to perpetuate family violence.”
10. Lack of empathy toward students who are bullied
Stone, the middle school counselor, believes rapid advances in technology and social media have hurt some of her students in one very specific way: “When you meet someone face to face, you get a lot of nonverbal feedback right away. You hear their voice, their inflection; you see their body language, and you understand how they’re feeling. But you don’t get that feedback with electronic communication.”
Many bullies, she believes, simply don’t understand how much they’re hurting others. Online, especially, they act recklessly and without remorse because they’re not able to see immediately that their behavior is wrong. They’re missing empathy in their social development.
11. Problems at school: fights, detention, trouble
According to the 2011 National Indicators of School Crime and Safety, 23 percent of public schools reported that bullying occurred among students on a daily or weekly basis. It is by far the biggest school discipline problem in the U.S. today. Many schools now have specific anti-bullying or “safe and civil environment” language as part of their rules of conduct. Administrators, teachers and parents are increasingly on the lookout for warning signs. Perhaps it’s no surprise that bullies get in trouble more.
A 2003 report in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine studied more than 15,000 students grades 6 through10 and found that bullies were more likely to bring weapons to school, get in at least four fights a year, and be injured in a fight — all behaviors that are sure to lead to the principal’s office.
12. Overly competitive and worried about reputation or popularity
For Stone, the middle school counselor, adolescent interactions sometimes remind her of a “shark pit.” It’s an apropos description for a 2011 study commissioned by CNN’s Anderson Cooper, which found that many students are involved in “social combat” — “a constant verbal, physical and cyber fight to the top of the school social hierarchy.”
“Kids are caught up in patterns of cruelty and aggression that have to do with jockeying for status,” said Robert Faris, a sociologist who partnered with Cooper. He believes that one of the biggest misconceptions about bullying is that bullies and victims are defined roles. Instead, he believes that, in many cases, they can be the same person. He interviewed students who bullied others to gain respect and move up the food chain. But as their status increased, “they tend to have a higher risk of victimization as well as a higher risk of becoming aggressive,” Faris said.