by: Pam Zuber (Sunshine Behavioral Health)
Bullying is not a buzzword – it’s a pandemic. It comes in all shapes and sizes, and sometimes is so subtle that it is almost impossible for the victim to articulate or pinpoint. It can be physical, psychological, or emotional.
But what is bullying? Kids disagree, they get into moods, and some just seem to have a mean streak. So, what separates a bully from someone who is just mean?
Why do bullies bully?
Bullying is intentional, repetitive, and a result of an imbalance of power. Children who bully are often deeply insecure and feel they need to empower themselves by weakening others.
Sometimes, children experience issues at home that create a desperate need for attention, and they lash out externally instead of analysing their inner emotional pain.
When one delves deeper, they’ll often discover that bullies are or were themselves victims of bullying at some point. It’s a distorted way of paying it forward to regain self-esteem.
Facts about bullying
According to Safer Schools, bullying is rampant in South African schools. Roughly 3,2 million children are bullied annually. When surveyed, children defined bullying as both verbal and physical abuse, and more than 67% of children who have been bullied did not seek help from an adult.
Why? They didn’t believe it would do any good or could have made it worse. There is a lot of pressure on children not to be labelled a tattletale or a snitch.
Only 4% of surveyed children said that they know someone who has been bullied. This low figure could be because bullies can be subtle and often make sure that others can’t see their actions. Or, when people are in public, bullying may be disguised as horseplay, and the victim is too embarrassed to speak out, sometimes chuckling along to fit in.
Twenty years ago, if a child was being bullied at school, going home at the end of the school day was a reprieve. But today, the bully follows the child into the sanctity of the private space, thanks to social media and increasing incidents of cyberbullying.
But legislation has lagged when it comes to any legal recourse for such harassment. Even with the Cybercrimes Act, it can be challenging to avoid cyberbullying or seek help.
The consequences of bullying
The emotional and mental health consequences of bullying can be tragic. Victims can lose self-esteem and struggle with depression and anxiety. Such conditions can lead to additional problems such as substance abuse, self-harm, or even suicide.
Signs your child is being bullied
Children often suffer in silence, and parents might confuse symptoms of being bullied with hormones, teenage angst, or general adolescent behaviors.
To spot and solve problems, it’s essential to encourage open communication and make it a normal part of the family dynamic. If your child is uncharacteristically bad-tempered, is reluctant to go to school or other usual places, avoids discussing school, or shows a dramatic shift in school performance, it’s cause for concern. Physical signs, such as cuts or bruises or unexplained damaged or lost belongings are also red flags.
What to do when your child is being bullied
The most important thing you can do is listen and let your child feel that they are heard. If you were bullied yourself, you can personalise your conversation by sharing your own experiences, but be careful not to undermine their experiences by implying that it is normal behaviour that every child needs to face.
Speak to your child’s teacher, and seek guidance, but don’t confront the bully or their parents. Although they may be common instincts, lashing out and retaliatory bullying aren’t going to fix anything.
It is also crucial that you find support for your child and yourself. Such support could equip your child with the tools they need to handle the situation.
Help your child articulate what is happening to them. The way you do this will depend on their age and can range from drawing and describing pictures to going for ice cream and having a long talk.
Look at where your child is thriving or what interests them. If they have a hobby or are involved in a sport, help them use it as an outlet where they can create positive feelings about themselves and build their self-esteem.
Equip your child with online know-how and take an interest in their online life. This can be tough when you have older teens, but you can keep a healthy channel of communication open. The internet is ruthless – once something is out there, there is no taking it back. Children need to realise this, and they should never say or put anything online that they wouldn’t share in person.
If your child is being taunted or bullied online – whether by someone they know or a stranger – they need to feel safe to speak about it, so you need to be open-minded. Don’t blame bullying situations on online gaming or social media. Such things are part of many young people’s worlds, and they need to learn to navigate them safely.
Also, if you suspect or discover that your child is bullying another child, it’s just as important to find support. Get to the bottom of it so that it doesn’t become a long-term problem, and assure your child that you love them unconditionally.
Bullying affects many people in many ways. Talking about it can help people understand it and do something about it.
stopbullying.gov – What Is Bullying?
stompoutbullying.org – Why Do Kids Bully?
saferschools.co.za – Bullying Facts Every Parent Should Know
legalwise.co.za – New Legislation in Place to Fight Cyberbullying in South Africa
childlinesa.org.za – What to Do If You Are Being Bullied
sunshinebehavioralhealth.com – What Are the Effects of Bullying?
kemptonexpress.co.za – Signs Your Child Is Being Bullied
onthecouchwithcarly.com – Parent Support and Education
cybersecurityhub.gov.za – Cyberbullying