A child`s enemy: Bullying
For many years parents, teachers, and researchers have struggled with the phenomenon of child bullying, but it wasn`t until recently that suddenly everyone in our century knows and discuss various incidents of this phenomenon almost every day. However, what most people don`t know is that child bullying is not something new, it existed even from the 18th century, but many didn`t give it the appropriate consideration in order to stop it and not becoming a global and social cruel phenomenon of physically and emotionally harassment. In order to decline then these incidents or even eliminate them, we should first of all understand and be familiar with what bullying stands for:
Bullying is defined as a deliberate, repeated or long-term exposure to negative acts performed by a person or group of persons regarded of higher status or greater strength than the victim. Bullying might be verbal acts such as threats, insults or nicknames or physical acts such as assault or theft. Also social acts such as exclusion from the peer group are considered bullying. (Due, Holstein, Lynch, Diderichsen, Gabhain, Scheidt & Currie, 2005).
The signs in order for parents to understand when their child is being bullied are not always visible, but certainly can be made noticeable with careful observation. Certainly it is for the best when a child discloses personally his/her traumatic experience, but because most of the children do not have the courage for such a disclosure, parents are requested to understand themselves if and when their child has been bullied. In most cases, child bullying focuses on vulnerable young people who are regarded as different from others because of their ethnic origin, class, sexual orientation, physical or learning disabilities. More specifically some common signs of child bullying which parents can watch out for include coming home with bruises and/or missing belongings, losing interest in school and becoming unwilling to go, having nightmares, losing appetite and becoming withdrawn, changing usual route to school or asking to be taken, starting to do poorly in their school work, repeated requests to come home for lunch, perhaps persistent stomach aches or headaches and unexplained secretiveness, sullenness or unusual outbursts of temper (Whitney, Nabuzoka & Smith, 1992). On the other hand, some signs for parents that their children may be bullies are that they may have extra money or clothes and boast about their exploits. As studies have shown there are some signs that can help parents understand if their child is a bullying victim, but certainly equally important is the correct and supportive reaction from the parents and the proper education on this specific subject.
As the above definition clarifies, child bullying comes in various forms, but even the smallest one shouldn`t be considered as minor or unharmed. In most situations the consequences can be catastrophic for the physical and psychological health of children and/or adolescents. An amount of studies have found and proved the association between bullying and emotional and behavioural problems. The most common consequences are sleeping problems, headache, stomach ache, bedwetting, depression and suicidal thoughts. However, it is equally important to remember, that these consequences are not temporary. Sadly, in many cases they can cause health problems to adults, who were victims of child bullying, and severely affect in a negative way their interpersonal relationships and their entire quality of life.
Reasons and the cycle of bullying
As we already established, child bullying has become one of the major problems that children and adolescents should face in the 21st century, and the reasons behind it are numerous. Although it can depend on the circumstances of the time of bullying, most studies support the fact that the child rearing and the child`s character are the most important elements that cause bullying and victimization. Studies show that generally boys are more active bullies than girls, but whereas boys bully in a more direct way (e.g. hitting), girls are likely to bully in a more indirect way (e.g. excluding others) (Fekkes, Pijpers & Verloove-Vanhorick, 2005). On the other hand, for victimization there are no large differences, as boys are bullied as often as girls. Regarding the character aspect, researchers have found that bullies tend to have an antisocial personality which would include a large repertoire of aggressive, delinquent and violent behaviour (Craig, 1998). On the contrary, victims usually have lower self-esteem, are less assertive, are more anxious, more withdrawn, and are physically smaller and weaker (Fekkes, Pijpers & Verloove-Vanhorick, 2005). Unfortunately, we should also stress out that for the victims there is a negative cyclic relationship between anxiety and victimization, as children who are more anxious and closed are easier to be bullied, so consequently when they are bullied they get anxious and so this cycle goes on and on, causing the victim a number of emotional and health issues. Nevertheless, we should as well consider the fact that violence brings violence, and in some cases children who are victims become later on bullies. This observation is equally important, because it can transfer the feeling of intimidation and bullying of one person to another. Even if the bullying victims continue to stay in this situation as children, there are some cases where this victim will become a bully growing up and will use his/her power and authority over someone weaker in order to feel the satisfaction of revenge which he/she couldn`t get as a child. This phenomenon is not widespread, but it can make bullying to exist for years after childhood and pass into adulthood.
As it is expected, most child bullying cases are taking place in the playground and in the classroom, which are the two places where children mostly interact with each other (Fekkes, Pijpers & Verloove-Vanhorick, 2005). The truth is that many people on the one side would expect that in such places, where many children gather together, is indeed easy for differences and conflicts that can lead to bullying to exist. Οn the other hand, many also believe that the fact that there is usually a large number of children would help to prevent such an event. Unfortunately, research has shown that bystanders most of the times do not try to stop the bullies and help the victim, which usually is interpreted by the first ones as a reinforcement to continue what they are doing. However, we should also acknowledge the fact that it is not an easy task for a child or even an adolescent, who is a bystander, to step forward and protect the victim for many reasons (e.g. fear of becoming the victim him/herself, friends with the bully, etc.). For that reason, the most appropriate people who could prevent and help in such a situation are the teachers and the parents.
Teachers and parents
As far as teachers are concerned, studies have shown that only half or even less children confide to them that they have been bullied. This finding suggests that teachers should create a more positive and trustworthy environment where the children will feel comfortable to talk about their problems and bullying experiences. Moreover, as it is revealed by many studies, it is also important for teachers to have a constant and frequent communication or even seminars with parents on the topic of child bullying. Also, it is equally significant that in such a situation the teachers should not inform only the parents of the victim, but also the parents of the bully, since these children (the bullies) need to learn with the help of their teachers and of course parents that such behaviour is not tolerated and permitted. However, apart from the teachers, the parents are the ones who can determine to some extend the behaviour of the child and the form of response in a bullying situation. Most findings tend to suggest that the positive behaviours of parents and an encouraging environment can protect children and adolescents from being involved in bullying situation either as bullies or victims. Furthermore, it is also proven that a child or teenager who lives in a family where openness and support are praised will more easily disclose to his/her parents his/her crisis of victimization; as opposed to a child or teenager whose family supports the avoidance of talking about personal issues with each other. So, in that last case the victim will not dare to disclose his/her victimization to the parents. Aside from these facts though, what was true with the teachers is with the parents as well, since approximately half of the children tell their parents about the fact that they are being bullied, which still constitutes a very small percentage.
Another very important issue, apart from the behaviour and the coping with a bullying situation on the part of the children, it is the knowledge of the parents on the issue as well as their own dealing when they find out that their child is bullied. According to research most parents misjudge the risk of child bullying and are often unaware of the problem even if their children are undergoing the agony of victimization (Matsunaga, 2009). Most significantly, many parents view physical bullying as the most serious form of victimization or in some cases as the only one, which both could not be more wrong. It is possible that parents, like teachers, may consider physical bullying as the worst one, because the other types of child bullying do not leave visible scars, however, it does not mean that the rest forms (e.g. intimidation) do not harm the children emotionally and damage both their physical and psychological health. Furthermore, we should also discuss the fact that many parents have difficulties recognizing a bullying situation, even if they are present in it. Most of them cannot distinguish bullying behaviours from other forms of social interactions such as rough-and-tumble play or playful teasing between friends, because they think that if their children have friends cannot be bullied, which is not correct, as many children are being bullied by children who consider to be their friends. The above findings are quite worrying and point out the necessity for further information and education on the part of the parents regarding child bullying.
Measures against child bullying
Consequently, we should also emphasize that it is extremely important the reaction of the parents and the measures that they should take, when they learn that their children are bullying victims. Research indicates that it is really essential for parents to fully understand how difficult is a disclosure for a child and for that reason their responses should be supportive and helpful in order to help their child and avoid bullying incidents in the future. Evidently there are some strategies and advice that parents can and should give to their children that have been bullied and also some that should avoid, as they will not help their child and instead will increase their victimization. Some strategies that have been found by researchers ineffective are retaliation, ignore the bullying, passive or aggressive reaction. The only thing that all the above behaviours can do is to worsen the situation for the victim. On the other hand, there are some effective strategies which can help the child with his/her confidence and with the decrease or stopping his/her victimization. Two of them are the teaching of pro-social behaviours and the enrolling in extracurricular activities, such karate for example. Both these techniques have been proven really helpful for many children that are victims of bullying, as they can help each child believe in him/herself again, make him/her more confident, understand that his/her victimization is something wrong, absolutely not his/her fault and needs to be stopped immediately, which can lead the child more easily to trust someone (parent and/or teacher) and disclose his/her victimization. However, first and foremost, we should bear in mind that alongside with the above effective measures, we should also let the child know from the very first second that we support him/her 100%, we are there for him/her, we love him/her, we will do anything to help him/her go through this difficult time and of course convince him/her that this is definitely not his/her fault.
Last but not least, I want for once more to stress out how important is for teachers and parents to educate themselves about child bullying, create a supportive environment where the child will feel safe to disclose a victimization and of course try to help your children go through this difficult time by supporting them, discuss with them, make them feel loved and boost their confidence.
For more information, please see the link below where you can find bullet points about what to do when your children are bullies or victims of bullying.
Beane, A. L. (2003). Protect Your Child from Bullying. www.bullyfree.com
Craig, W. M. (1998). The Relationship Among Bullying, Victimization, Depression, Anxiety, And Aggression In Elementary School Children. Person. Individ. Diff., 24(1), 123-130.
Due, P., Holstein, B. E., Lynch, J., Diderichsen, F., Gabhain, S. N., Scheidt, P., Currie, C., & The Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children Bullying Working Group (2005). Bullying and symptoms among school-aged children: international comparative cross sectional study in 28 countries. European Journal of Public Health, 15(2), 128-132.
Fekkes, M., Pijpers, F. I. M., & Verloove-Vanhorick, S. P. (2005). Bullying: who does what, when and where? Involvement of children, teachers and parents in bullying behaviour. Health Education Research, 20(1), 81-91.
Matsunaga, M. (2009). Parents Don`t (Always) Know Their Children Have Been Bullied: Child-Parent Discrepancy on Bullying and Family-Level Profile of Communication Standards. Human Communication Research, 35, 221247.
Pepler, D. J., & Craig, W. (2000). Making a Difference in Bullying.
Sawyer, J. L., Mishna, F., Pepler, D., & Wiener, J. (2011). The missing voice: Parents` perspectives of bullying. Children and Youth Services Review, 33, 1795-1803.
Tamietti, R. (2012). History of bullying. http://bullying190.blogspot.de/2012/10/history-of-bullying.html
Whitney, I., Nabuzoka, D., & Smith, P. K. (1992). Bullying in schools: Mainstream and special needs. Support for Learning, 7(1), 3-7.
Wolke, D., Woods, S., Stanford, K., & Schulz, H. (2001). Bullying and victimization of primary children in England and Germany: Prevalence and school factors. British Journal of Psychology, 92, 673-696.