One of the more difficult issues I’ve had to discuss with kids and parents may be starting to emerge again. I have had several patients who have been the victims of bullying during the school year, occurring on the school bus, recess, lunch or even in the classroom.
This growing issue needs to be addressed, especially in light of the current events that have been taking place in the country. Xenophobia and intolerance are way too prevalent and threaten all of us. This kind of behavior often starts at a young age and can manifest itself in school-aged kids as bullying.
Before discussing how to deal with bullying, it’s important to understand the term. Bullying is defined as repetitive actions that are aggressive or intended to harm another, involving an imbalance of power. Though this may sound simple, it can sometimes be difficult to apprehend, especially since it can take on many forms.
Bullying can be physical, verbal, social or through cyberbullying. Victims can be boys and girls of any age, and bullying can happen without adults knowing about it, often through the internet, as in the case of cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying has been increasing in recent years, especially in the adolescent population, and unfortunately it can be one of the most difficult to address. Kids are often embarrassed to report cyberbullying to adults and the bullies may be acting anonymously online. Adults often cannot catch this easily because it goes on through social media and often takes place outside of school, where no adult is closely monitoring.
It can be difficult for parents to know how to deal with bullying. The first step is recognizing when children may be the victims of bullying. Some signs to look for are changes in personality, refusal to go to school or kids becoming more emotional, especially after going online.
If parents see any of these signs, they should talk with their children and not judge them or make them feel responsible. They should discuss with their kids how to deal with the situation. If the bullying is verbal, children should first try to walk away and ignore the behavior. It is OK to confront the bullies and firmly ask them to stop, but there should not be physical retaliation.
The next step would be talking to a teacher or other responsible adult at school. Parents should teach their kids when and how to ask an adult for help, and then step in if they feel teachers or administrators are not resolving the situation.
With cyberbullying, parents should record any texts, emails or other messages that document the bullying. Again, they should talk to school staff so they can help intervene. If there are physical threats or there is a concern that children may be in danger, then parents should not hesitate to contact the police.
The best way to defeat bullying is to focus on acceptance and empathy for others. It’s important to remember that most bullies are acting out to cover their own feelings of self-doubt or inadequacy. Many bullies have been victims or witnesses to violence, hatred or bullying in their lives. It is important to break the cycle of bullying and focus on building positive relationships and acceptance of others, regardless of differences.
Dr. Laura Shefner writes about pediatrics for the Cleveland Jewish News. She is a pediatrician at The MetroHealth System and practices in Beachwood and Parma.