Bullies: Kids being kids?

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 7, 2005

Much has been said in recent years about bullying, but do you really know what it is? Do you really know the consequences? The behavior can be pushing, shoving, hitting, tripping, name calling, being picked on, gossiping, being excluded from groups or activities and the like. It runs the gamut from mild teasing to murder. The adult equivalent would be child abuse, domestic violence and assault. A physician, Dr. Goldbloom, defines it as &#8220the tendency for some children to frequently oppress, harass, or intimidate others verbally, physically, or both, in and out of school.” We are not describing the horseplay that children engage in or the occasional fight between children of equal strength. It has been reported that name-calling is the most common. The reasons vary from being of a different race or religion, to being of a different economic class to physical characteristics such as very short or very tall, to disabilities such as ADHD, stuttering, and physical handicaps. One study by the University of Nebraska reported that 75% of sixth grade children surveyed said that they either had been victims of bullying, had bullied other children, or both during the school year. It is common in second graders and tapers off during high school.

So, what is this bully really like? How did they get that way? Most often the bully and the victim is a boy, but girls are capable of being either. Usually girls use social means as opposed to physical behavior. These children may be bossy, aggressive, have poor self control. They are often unhappy, immature and unpopular. They desire power over others and want to create a status for themselves. They are at an increased risk for criminal activity, domestic violence and child abuse as adults. An international authority on bullying found that 60% of male bullies had at least one court conviction by age 24. Bullies tend to receive more physical punishment from their parents, view more TV violence and show misconduct at home. Many learn by example; they have few positive adult role models, easier access to guns and more exposure to gang activity.

The victim may be smaller, weaker, have poor social skills and low self esteem, and be passive rather than assertive. Children with AD/HD are at a greater risk. One of the reasons for this is that they tend to react emotionally to bullying and this encourages the bully. The victimization can produce emotional problems such as depression and anxiety as well as leave the child feeling demoralized and helpless. In extreme cases, the victim has reacted by harming themselves or others.

Is your child being bullied? Are you thinking that they will tell you? Many children suffer in silence because they are embarrassed or fearful that things will get worse. However, there are signs that parents can look for in their children such as school avoidance. There may be non specific complaints like headaches or stomachaches, or they may have trouble sleeping or have nightmares. Sometimes you may notice their personal items missing or that they come home ripped or damaged in some other way. Some parents notice a change in personality such as their child being more moody, anxious, and withdrawn or a change in grades.

Ok, you are suspicious. What should you do? Some feel it is best to ask indirect questions, such as what is it like walking home from school, or at lunch or on the bus. Ask if they know any children being bullied. Answers may go from &#8220everything’s fine” to silence to tears then the painful truth. If your child is a victim, stay calm and be a good listener. Don’t overreact. Consider contacting the school principal and ask if there is a bullying policy, and what interventions can be implemented. A meeting between the parents and the school officials may help. Some find it helpful to enroll their children in a martial arts class to build self esteem and promote assertiveness. Avoid telling your child to fight back since they will be in trouble at school and may get hurt. They are better off walking away or looking the bully straight in the eye and telling them &#8220Stop it. Leave me alone” or use humor. The child should try not to look upset or cry. Role playing this with your child will be helpful.

Bullying exists in all schools. Don’t believe any different. It should not be accepted nor tolerated. Since bullying behavior can affect your child’s mental health, a counselor may need to be contacted if this persists.