How to break bullying's hold on kids
2/6/2020 by Jill M. Smith, APRN, CNP
We hear a lot about bullying and the devastating hold it can have on kids. But what is it and are there ways to stop it? These answers to frequently asked questions about bullying based on information from the American Academy of Pediatrics and Stopbullying.gov should help parents and children better understand this unwelcome, destructive behavior.
What is bullying?
Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived imbalance of power. The behavior is also repeated, or has the potential to be repeated.
What are the types of bullying?
There are a number of different types of bullying:
- Verbal. Saying or writing mean things. It may include:
- Inappropriate sexual comments
- Threatening to cause harm
- Social/relational. Hurting someone's reputation or relationships and may include:
- Leaving out someone on purpose
- Telling other children not to be friends with someone
- Spreading rumors about someone
- Embarrassing someone in public
- Physical. Hurting a person's body or possessions. It may include:
- Taking or breaking someone's things
- Making mean or rude hand gestures
- Cyberbullying. Takes place in digital media through text, apps, email or online social media/gaming sites. Cyberbullying is unique in that it may be persistent, permanent and hard to notice and can harm everyone involved. Some cyberbullying is unlawful or criminal, but laws and policies differ in each state. This form of bullying may include:
- Sending, posting or sharing negative, harmful, false or mean content about someone else
- Sharing personal or private information, causing embarrassment or humiliation
What roles do kids play in bullying?
Kids play various roles in bullying. Understanding these roles can help adults address and prevent bullying behaviors.
- Kids who bully. These children engage in bullying behavior toward their peers and require support to change this behavior and address any other challenges that may be influencing it.
- Kids who are bullied. These children are the targets of bullying behavior and may require help learning strategies to respond to it.
- Kids who assist. These children may not start the bullying or lead it, but they serve as an "assistant" to children who are bullying. They may encourage the behavior and occasionally join in.
- Kids who reinforce. These children aren't directly involved in the bullying behavior, but they provide an audience. They often laugh or give support to the bullies. This may encourage it to continue.
- Outsiders. These children remain separate from the bullying. They neither reinforce the bullying nor defend the child being bullied. Some may watch what is going on, but don't provide feedback to indicate they're on anyone's side. Just providing an audience may encourage the bullying behavior. These kids often want to help, but don't know how and need to learn how to be more than a bystander.
What are the effects of bullying?
Bullying can affect everyone — those who are bullied, those who bully and those who witness it. Bullying is linked to negative health outcomes, including mental health issues, physical symptoms and/or impaired school performance.
What can we do?
Parents, school staff and other adults in the community can help kids prevent bullying by talking about it, building a safe school environment and creating a community-wide bullying prevention strategy.
When adults respond quickly and consistently to bullying, they send the message that it's not acceptable. Research shows this can stop bullying behavior over time. Here are some simple steps adults can take to stop bullying on the spot and keep kids safe:
- Learn about what bullying is and isn't.
- Recognize warning signs your child is involved in bullying. They could be bullied, bullying others or witnessing it.
To stop bullying on the spot:
- Intervene immediately; it's okay to get another adult to help.
- Separate the kids involved.
- Make sure everyone is safe.
- Meet any immediate medical or mental health needs.
- Stay calm. Reassure the kids involved, including bystanders.
- Model respectful behavior when you intervene.
Here are some common mistakes to avoid:
- Don't ignore bullying and think kids can work it out without adult help.
- Don't immediately try to sort out the facts.
- Don't force other kids to say publicly what they saw.
- Don't question the children involved together, only separately.
- Don't make the kids involved apologize or patch up relationships on the spot.
Seek help from law enforcement or medical staff immediately if:
- A weapon is involved
- There are threats of serious physical injury
- There are threats of hate-motivated violence, such as racism or homophobia
- There is serious physical harm
- There is sexual abuse
- Anyone is accused of an illegal act, such as robbery or extortion — using force to get money, property or services
Cyberbullying may require different strategies than in-person bullying, remember to:
- Honor minimum age requirements for site use or creating a profile to make sure you're not sending mixed messages about online safety by falsifying ages.
- Openly communicate with your children/adolescents about their online use.
- Become educated and proficient in the technologies your children/adolescents are using.
- Create an online-use plan at regular family meetings to discuss online topics, and check privacy settings and profiles for inappropriate posts. Focus on healthy behavior and not punishment, unless truly warranted.
- Supervisor online activities by actively participating and communicating on their platforms, instead of relying solely on remote monitoring software.
What if bullying is taking place at school?
If any kind of bullying is happening at school, learn what your state's anti-bullying law requires schools to do. Also learn how federal laws require schools to address harassment based on race, color, national origin, sex and disabilities, as well as ways to report situations that haven't been adequately addressed to the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice.
If you've worked with your child and your school and need additional help, here are some resources:
- Become an Upstander to Bullying — English video & Spanish video
- Stopybullying.gov — Get Help Now
- Stopbullying.gov (English / Spanish)
- American Academy of Pediatrics — search "bullying"
Jill M. Smith, APRN, CNP, is a certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner in Primary Care in Rochester/Kasson's Division of Community Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine (CPAM). She has a passion for adolescents, childhood mental health and encourages everyone to remember that our children are watching: they are modeling our behavior, out beliefs and our words.