It's been quite an emotional time for former driver and bus monitor, Karen Klein of Rochester. She was not very well known outside her neighborhood, however, she became an unwilling actor in a YouTube video, now seen around the world, for enduring verbal abuse from four seventh grade bullies. We have seen parents shocked that their child took part in the behavior, and a finacial outpouring of support to send Ms. Klein on a grand vacation.
Bullying is typically defined as, aggressive behavior including verbal taunting, threats and physical combativeness among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Bullying also includes actions such as, spreading rumors, attacking, and purposely excluding someone from a group. But, in the recent video of Klein that went viral we saw that the targets of bullies are not always their peers. Bullying is clearly not limited to the schoolyard, some bullies that are not corrected may continue to behave aggressively in adulthood and continue to bully in college and their co-workers.
How does a child become a bully?
Between the ages of 3 and 5, kids learn how to get along with each other, cooperate, share, and begin to develop understanding of their feelings. Research has shown that bullies are aggressive children. They view violence and intimidation as an acceptable way to interact with peers. Young children may be aggressive and tantrum for a short period of time when they don’t get what they want, but this is not bullying. There are many factors that can contribute to a child resorting to bullying. Parents might be using harsh forms of discipline, or may not provide enough discipline. The child may have been traumatized or has become the bully to prevent being bullied. What ever the reason, it can become and ongoing problem, with bullies being more likely to incur criminal charges and abuse illicit substances.
Possibly because they don’t know the best way to handle the problem, parents and other adults may ignore the behavior of bullies, and since they aren’t disciplined, bullies believe it is okay to act aggressively towards others. Schools may inadvertently support bullying behavior. Teachers and administrators may recognize and reward only certain groups of students. Athletes or scholars may get special attention. These schools can be percieved as lacking an atmosphere of inclusion and cooperation. Bullies may harass others because of their race, gender, ethnicity, physical attributes, sexual orientation, or personality characteristics.
What is Cyberbullying
Bullying doesn't always happen face to face. Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place using electronic technology, including devices and equipment such as mobile phones, computers, and tablets as well as communication tools including email, social media sites, text messages, chat, and websites. Some examples of cyberbullying are mean texts or emails, rumors sent with email or posted on social networking sites, and embarrassing pictures, videos, websites, or fake profiles.
Why Cyberbullying is Different
Kids who are being cyberbullied are often bullied in person as well. Additionally, kids who are cyberbullied have a harder time getting away from the behavior.
- Cyberbullying can happen around the clock 24/7, and can taunt a youngster even when he or she is alone. It can happen any time of the day or night.
- Cyberbullying messages and images can be posted anonymously and distributed quickly to a very wide audience. It can be difficult and sometimes impossible to trace the source.
- Deleting humiliating or harassing messages, texts, and pictures is extremely difficult after they have been posted or sent.
Signs to Watch For
There are many warning signs that may indicate that someone is affected by bullying—either being bullied or bullying others. For parents and educators recognizing the warning signs is an important first step in taking action against bullying. Not all children who are bullied or are bullying others will ask for help.
It is essential to talk with children who show signs of being bullied or bullying others. These warning signs can also point to other issues or problems, such as depression or substance abuse. Talking with the child can help identify the root of the problem.
- Lost or destroyed clothing, books, electronics, or jewelry.
- Frequent headaches or stomach aches, feeling sick or faking illness.
- Changes in eating habits, such as skipping meals or binge eating.
- Having unexplained injuries.
- 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.
- Decreased self esteem, and increased self-doubt.
- Self-destructive behaviors such as running away from home, harming themselves, or talking about suicide.
Look for behavior changes in the child. However, be aware that not all children who are bullied exhibit warning signs. If you know someone in serious distress or danger, do not ignore the problem. Get help right away, and alert the authorities at school if you suspect or witness a child being bullied.
Signs a Child is Bullying Others
Kids may be bullying others if they:
- Get involved in physical or verbal fights.
- Have friends who bully others
- Are increasingly aggressive or "mean spirited"
- Get sent to the principal’s office or to detention frequently
- Have unexplained extra money or new belongings
- Blame others for their problems, refuse to accept responsibility for their actions
- Are competitive and worry about their reputation or popularity
What to do
Research tells us that children really do look to parents and caregivers for advice and help on tough decisions, so keep the lines of communication open. Sometimes spending 15 minutes a day talking can reassure kids that they can talk to their parents if they have a problem. Start conversations about daily life and feelings with questions like these:
- What was something good that happened today? Anything bad happen?
- What is lunch time like at school? Who do you sit with? What do you talk about?
- What is it like to ride the school bus?
- What is your favorite subject? What would do you like best about yourself?
Talking about bullying directly is an important step in understanding how the issue might be affecting kids. There are no right or wrong answers to these questions, but it is important to encourage kids to answer them honestly. Assure kids that they are not alone in addressing any problems that arise.
Psychological services would be helpful for developing coping skills, strategies, and for restoring self-esteem in children who are victims of bullies. Bullies themselves obviously, would benefit from services as well to develop empathy for others and impulse control. People who bully can change their behavior, and we need to let them know it is not okay to behave that way.