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The Truth about Bullying

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Bullying has been defined by the U.S. Department of Education as: Any intentional, repeated, hurtful acts, words, or behavior committed by one or more children against another.

Some of the behaviors associated with bullying are:
  • Physical violence and attacks
  • Verbal taunts, name-calling and put-downs
  • Threats and intimidation
  • Extortion or stealing of money and possessions
  • Exclusion from the peer group
  • Racial or ethnic-cased verbal abuse
  • Gender-based put downs
  • Un-welcomed sexual advances or comments
  • Any of this can be in person or using any form of electronic or technological device.

Because reporting of bullying tends to be spotty, estimates and research results vary, however, in the United States, it is estimated that a child is bullied every seven minutes. Additionally, there are 7,000,000 incidents of bullying in the U.S. schools per year. Statistics are showing that bullying affects at least 1 of 3 public school children (bullies or the bullied), and perhaps of greatest importance, more than 55% of all 8-15 year-old students think bullying is a bigger problem than drugs, racism and HIV-AIDs in their school.

One of the key elements in a bullying situation is the imbalance of power, which exists between the bully and the victim. For example, picture an 8th grade bully taking advantage of the natural social rift between 7th and 8th graders, and taunting, and demeaning the younger student. The power is implied simply by the natural occurrence of differences in grade levels.

Bullying can be overt or it can be subtle. Bullying can occur in several forms:
  • Physical, verbal, emotional and sexual.
  • It can be direct (hitting, threatening) or indirect (excluding, rumors technological).
  • Bullying happens for many different reasons, and to many different people. No longer is there a designated victim personality (though some characteristics make kids more apt to be bullied than others).
  • Kids may be a potential target who are new to a school, of a different cultural orientation, shy, in a lower grade, smaller, or different in another more obvious way.

An important product, which has come from the past 25 years worth of research, is the corrected concept of the bully “personality”. In the past, bullies have been explained as kids who come from homes where parents are emotionally neglectful, the bully has low self-esteem, no friends and is lonely. Thus, he/she bullies other kids to gain a sense of power. The current peer research shows that the bully “personalities” have been shown to have high self-esteem, be well-liked by their classmates and friends, and are probably even perceived as cool.

Professor Dan Olweus, the pre-eminent researcher of bullying among school-age children and youth has identified a number of different factors, which contribute to bullying problems. Among the two leading causes are family factors and temperament.

Specific child-rearing styles have been found to predict whether children will grow up to be aggressive bullies. These styles contain a lack of warmth and attention toward the child together with aggressive/authoritarian behavior from the parent(s) and poor supervision of the child. This combination with modeling of aggressive behavior in the home, provide the perfect opportunity for aggressive bullying behavior to occur in children.

Even families who don’t exhibit the above combination, may still find themselves with a child who bullies. The best-documented individual child factor in bullying (whether the child is the “bully” or being bullied) is temperament. Temperament refers to basic tendencies by children to develop certain personality styles and interpersonal behaviors. Children who are active and impulsive in temperament may be more inclined to develop into bullies. Children who are more inclined to follow and who are not socially adept, tend to be more inclined to be bullied.

The concept of bullying affects not just the bullies and their families, but the victims of bullying as well. Knowing how to stop your child from bullying or help your child who has been bullied, can be a confounding and very stressful situation.

Below, we have outlined ten parenting tips to help your children who are either bullying or being bullied.

Ten Steps For Banishing Bullying

1. Communicate. Talk often with your child and listen carefully. Ask specific questions about your child’s day, activities and friends, such as, “how did your test in math go today?’ or “who did you play with at recess today?” or “How did you and Jimmy work out your conflict?” Ask if your child feels comfortable and safe at school, and make sure you know their peers and their peer’s families.

2. Model. If your kids live with yelling, name-calling, put downs, harsh criticism, or physical anger from a sibling or parent/caregiver, they may choose to act out with similar behaviors in other settings. Keeping your behavior in check by making sure you are respectful, consistent and non-aggressive will teach your children how to be respectful and non-aggressive people.

3. Educate. Talk to your kids about bullying even if they don’t bring it up. Have bullying be part of the family dialog, compare it with family values, point it out when you see it in movies, TV shows, etc. Teach your child what to do in a bully situation. You can even role-play where they are the bully and you are the victim, and then switch roles. Teach them how to recognize the different kinds of bullying, who to talk to about it, and how to avoid becoming a victim.

4. Supervise. This may seem obvious, but research shows that lack of supervision from a qualified adult, contributes to bullying situations. Bullying happens when there is lack of parental or adult supervision. Know what your kids are doing, where they are doing it, and with whom they are doing it. Teach your kids to stay away from hallways, bathrooms, isolated streets, internet sites, chat sites, texting, etc. where there is little adult supervision. Put the family computer in a central location so you can supervise what your kids are doing online. Continue to supervise your teens: the research shows that even though they may protest, teens need parental guidance (though they may need a different kind than younger children).

5. Discipline. Learn the difference between punishment and discipline. Make sure your discipline is respectful, democratic, consistent, and reliable. Perhaps most importantly, make sure your discipline is never violent.

6. Zero Tolerance. Never accept bullying behaviors from your children. Teach children how to express aggressive or “big” feelings in a productive and non-harmful way. Make sure your discipline of bullying behaviors is immediate and consistent.

7. Dis-empower. Teach your children to dis-empower bullies. Teach them about The Bullying Circle and help them understand and create which reactions or roles they want to have in a bullying situation.

8. Support. Be supportive if your child is bullied. Reassure him/her it is not “tattling” if he/she tells you. Teach your child the difference between tattling and reporting. Tattling is meant to get someone into trouble, and reporting is meant to get someone out of trouble.

9. Report. Immediately report any bullying incidents, even if you are not sure it is bullying to your child’s school principal, coach, camp director, youth group leader, etc. In some cases, the bullying may be illegal, so contacting the police may be appropriate. Be persistent, and don’t tolerate “no action” as an answer.

10. Get Help. Watch for changes in your child’s affect, sleeping, eating and attitude toward school or other activities. If your child is bullying or has been bullied and it is negatively impacting his/her life, get help from a mental health professional right away.

Having a guideline to share with your family can be an important step to increasing Bully Awareness, and perhaps empower your kids to avoid being victims and educate or intervene if your kids are bullying.
[AUTHOR: Kristi Miller, Solutions in Parenting ]

October 26, 2014

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