Between 4th and 8th grade I have vivid, painful memories of being frequently bullied at school. Fellow students made fun of my hair and my clothes, pulled chairs out from underneath me, threw things at me, mocked me, and called me names. These experiences solidified my own insecurities — my lack of perceived self-worth — and sent a clear message to myself that I was isolated. This message was reinforced by the fact that no one, fellow student or adult, ever stood up for me or helped me figure out how to protect myself. Over the years, the feeling that I was alone intensified. It felt like there were no good options for me, that there was no authority figure I could turn to for help. Though I’m now an adult, the pain of that isolation and helplessness has re-emerged over the years, mapping itself onto other social interactions. There’s a little part of me that is sure I’m still a scared 4th grader with no allies and no good options.
Bullying causes long-lasting pain that can cause many problems in someone’s life. And while not often discussed, both the person being bullied and the one doing the bullying can be affected by these negative consequences. October is National Bullying Prevention month, and though the month is drawing to a close, bullying is a persistent problem in our society that always needs to be looked at. This blog post is part one of a two-part series that will look at bullying. Here in part one, we’re talking about how to recognize signs of bullying. Part two will discuss how to stop bullying, and how to respond in the face of it. While bullying can happen to a person at any age, these two blog posts will focus on bullying amongst children.
The Institute of Education Sciences defines bullying as, “any unwanted aggressive behavior(s) by another youth or group of youths who are not siblings or current dating partners that involves an observed or perceived power imbalance and is repeated multiple times or is highly likely to be repeated.”
Stopbullying.gov lists the three types of bullying: verbal, social and physical:
1. Verbal bullying is saying or writing mean things; examples include teasing, name-calling, inappropriate sexual comments, taunting, and/or threatening to cause harm.
2. Social bullying, sometimes referred to as relational bullying, involves hurting someone’s reputation or relationships. Examples of social bullying include telling other children not to be friends with someone, spreading rumors about someone, embarrassing someone in public.
3. Physical bullying involves hurting a person’s body or possessions. Examples include hitting/kicking/pinching, spitting, tripping/pushing, taking or breaking someone’s things, and/or making mean or rude hand gestures.
Of course, there are many other ways that bullying can manifest, including cyberbullying, which is when someone uses electronic devices and/or social media to bully another person.
Like the younger me, many kids don’t know who to turn to or how to ask for help. In fact, according to the 2012 Indicators of School Crime and Safety, adults were notified only 40% of the time that a bullying incident happened. Therefore, the first step in preventing bullying is for adults to be able to recognize the signs even when they aren’t explicit. The 2017 report stated that “about 33 percent of students who reported being bullied at school indicated that they were bullied at least once or twice a month during the school year.”
Stopbullying.gov lists several great tips both for how to spot signs that a child is being bullied, and signs that a child is engaging in bullying behavior. We, as adults, need to be on the lookout for both:
Signs a Child Is Being Bullied:
- Unexplainable injuries
- Lost or destroyed clothing, books, electronics, or jewelry
- Frequent headaches or stomach aches, feeling sick or faking illness
- Changes in eating habits, like suddenly skipping meals or binge eating. Kids may come home from school hungry because they did not eat lunch.
- Difficulty sleeping or frequent nightmares
- Declining grades, loss of interest in schoolwork, or not wanting to go to school
- Sudden loss of friends or avoidance of social situations
- Feelings of helplessness or decreased self esteem
- Self-destructive behaviors such as running away from home, harming themselves, or talking about suicide
Signs a Child is Bullying Others — Kids may be bullying other kids if they…
- Get into physical or verbal fights
- Have friends who bully others
- Are increasingly aggressive
- Get sent to the principal’s office or to detention frequently
- Have unexplained extra money or new belongings
- Blame others for their problems
- Don’t accept responsibility for their actions
- Are competitive and worry about their reputation or popularity
They also include a reminder that not all bullying looks the same, and different children may or may not exhibit warning signs.
There are some common trends to be aware of as well. The 2017 Indicators of Crime and Safety report stated that, “During the 2015–16 school year, the percentage of public schools that reported student bullying occurred at least once a week was highest for middle schools.” Also, while not always the case, there are some demographics of children who may be at an increased risk of bullying. These include children who appear anxious or introverted, as well as children who are disabled, have non-dominant family structures, who identify with non-dominant sexual orientations, and/or who come from non-dominant ethnic backgrounds. While bullying can happen to anyone, it’s good to be aware that, statistically speaking, these demographics often endure higher amounts of bullying.