Social interaction among children starts at a young age and is experienced on a daily basis for the rest of their lives — both in positive and negative ways. One of the more negative aspects of children’s social relationships is bullying, and it affects the child who is bullying others, the child who is being bullied and the other children who are inadvertently involved.
What is bullying exactly? The American Psychological Association defines bullying as “a form of aggressive behavior in which someone intentionally and repeatedly causes another person injury or discomfort. Bullying can take the form of physical contact, words or more subtle actions.” In order for behavior to be considered bullying, it not only must be aggressive, it also must show an imbalance of power and be repeated.
An imbalance of power means that the child who is bullying uses physical actions, embarrassing information or their popularity to exclude the child being bullied from activities. Today, bullying has moved from the schoolyard to include cyberbullying, which is defined as “bullying that takes place over digital devices such as cellular phones, computers and tablets.” The most common platforms are through social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter, but bullying can also occur through texting and apps. Cyberbullying is persistent and is harder for parents and teachers to spot because it happens online. It also occurs in conjunction with bullying at school.
Bullying occurs everywhere, but the most likely place is at school and, according to the Department of Health and Human Services website, StopBullying.com, the playground and the bus are the areas with the most significant amount of bullying incidents. Bullying can happen during school or after school, and most of the reported accounts of bullying happen inside the school building. Studies by the National Center for Education Statistics, the Bureau of Justice and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that 20 to 21 percent of students in grades 9 through 12 nationwide have reported being bullied on school property.
Kids Who Bully
While kids who are bullied suffer both mentally and physically, those who are doing the bullying also have negative consequences associated with their actions. They are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol in adolescence and continue into adulthood. They are more likely to get into fights or vandalize property resulting in criminal convictions, become sexually active at an early age and act abusively toward their romantic partners, spouses and children. Kids who witness bullying also suffer from mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. They also tend to miss more school days and have more problems involving tobacco, alcohol and drugs.
What makes a child more likely to bully others? Studies have shown that there are two types of kids who are more likely to bully others. The first type is the child who is socially well connected to his peers, is overly concerned with his popularity and likes to be in charge. The second type is the child who is socially isolated from his peers, has low self-esteem and has difficulty understanding other people’s feelings. According to StopBullying.com, other warning signs include kids who are aggressive or easily frustrated, have less parental involvement or have problems at home, or think badly of others, especially those who are different from them. Kids who have difficulty following rules, view violence positively or are friends with children who bully others are also more likely to become those who bully.
Kids play other roles in bullying. Those who assist in bullying usually do not start or lead the bullying, but assist the child who is bullying in his activities by giving him encouragement and occasionally joining in. Kids who reinforce bullying behavior are those who provide an audience for the child who is bullying. They do not join in the bullying behavior but, instead, will laugh and provide support for the bully to continue what he’s doing. Outsiders do not provide assistance to or reinforcement for the child who is bullying, but they do not step forward to defend the child being bullied, either.
The Bully vs. the Bullied
You may wonder if your child is bullying other kids. There is no one factor that makes a child more likely to bully others. Likewise, there is no particular setting that is more likely to have bullying than others. Bullying occurs in private schools and public schools, in cities, suburban and rural areas. Some groups that may be at a higher risk for being singled out and bullied include children who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning (LGBTQ) or kids who have physical or mental disabilities.
Options and Resources
Due to the prevalence of bullying and the lifelong impact bullying can have on kids, state and local lawmakers have taken action to prevent bullying and to protect children. Each state addresses bullying differently through laws and model policies. Bullying, cyberbullying and related behaviors may be addressed in single or multiple laws. In some cases, bullying appears in the criminal code of a state that may apply to juveniles. Depending on the state and applicable laws, penalties for cyberbullying sanctions could range anywhere from civil penalties, such as school intervention via suspensions and/or expulsions, to jail time for criminal misdemeanors and even felonies.
Parents and teachers need to be aware of behaviors in kids that indicate they are bullying others. Some include frequent physical or verbal confrontations with others, associating with students who are known to bully others, having new belongings or money, blaming others for their problems or not accepting responsibility for what they have done. Other signs may include making negative racial comments about minorities or showing signs of discrimination towards others who are different from them.
There are steps to help the child who is bullying. You have a great deal of influence over your kids, and they look to you for guidance. Children learn how to act by watching the adults in their lives. Modeling respectful behavior is one way to prevent bullying. Other ways to curb bullying behavior include showing acceptance of people who are different from you and talking about bullying and why it is wrong. Talk with your children about what they did at school, who they sat with at lunch or their favorite part of the day. Ask if they saw anything that bothered them. Encourage them to participate in activities they enjoy to help build their self-esteem.
There are many resources available to help parents and children deal with bullying, including school personnel, mental health counselors and your healthcare provider. By working together, parents, educators and kids can prevent bullying in their community and build a stronger, healthier population.
Tamra Robertson, MSN, RN, CPNP-PC, PPCNP-BC, graduated from Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis in 2009. She currently works as a PNP for Indiana University Health-Southern Indiana Physicians Pediatric Group in Bloomington, IN. She sees patients from ages 2 months to 18 years, and has a special interest in Pediatric Asthma and Pediatric Mental Health issues.