Bullying and Harrassment
Bullying is a serious, and challenging, problem in schools today, and is made more complicated by social media and access to powerful technological tools that are in the hands of youngsters. Emotional maturity and intellectual intelligence are often out of sync with one another during the school years, and parents (as well as teachers) often mistake one for the other. A highly intelligent and successful student can be involved in significant bullying behavior.
Bullying and harrassment involve unwanted physical, verbal, or technological contact. There is generaly an imbalance eof power between the bully and the person who is bullied. Bullying can be direct and overt (like physical aggression) or covert (like posting embarrassing or damaging information on the internet). Bullying can also include social ostracism or exclusion of a child.
According to the National Education Association, bullying affects nearly one in three American schoolchildren in grades six through 10. Eighty-three percent of girls and 79 percent of boys report experiencing harassment.
Gay teens are even more frequently victimized, often leading to depression, school failure, school avoidance, dropping out, or self-injurious behavior. According to GLSEN (the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network), a leading advocacy group dedicated to insuring safe schools, the GPA of gay teens are approximately a half-letter grade lower on the national average to their same age/grade peers.
Online and telephonic bullying (cyber bullying) have made this an even more difficult challenge to address. Parents and school personnel need to be made aware, and quick and appropriate action needs to be taken to assure a safe learning environment. Kids need advocates, and they need more appropriate tools. The landscape of bullying behavior has changed and can have far-reaching effects due to the use of the computer and cell phones. Kids today can be threatened with embarrassing images posted on YouTube, or damaging gossip and rumors that are spread like wildfire via IM
Students are also naive about the use of their online images. Their friendships and alliances can change suddenly and cause great distress. A best friend today may not be one next week, yet highly sensitive information may have been shared online. Students are often involved with online relationships with individuals they have never met through video gaming, facebook, chat rooms, etc.; Safe internet usage needs to be part of a routine family conversation and rules about acceptable use need to be in place and updated as appropriate based on your child's age and developmental level. Kids need to know who to go to if anyone (friend, adult, online, dating, school, neighbor, relative, etc.;), makes them feel uncomfortable in any way.
Kids who witness bullying can have bystander trauma as well. All youngsters need to be engaged in a dialogue with caring and concerned adults about their exposure to bullying behavior, and they need to have the tools to know how to respond to it, and to know who to go to for help.
Children who are bullied are vulnerable to developing depression and anxiety disorders. Kids who bully may have been bullied themselves, or witnessed bullying behavior at home or elsewhere. They need help too.
Children who are bullied should not be expected to tolerate it, or to handle it themselves. They should not be blamed for it. Responsible and appropriate parental advocacy is important, and providing reassurance to your child, as well as taking important steps to provide them with the appropriate resources, healthy tools, and a safe learning environment, is vitally important. They need to know they can count on you and while it may take some time to solve the problem, they need to know you are on their side and will help them through this. There are many steps that you and your child can take to improve the situation, so don't let it persist without seeking help.
Dealing with bullying can be complicated. An experienced, Licensed Clinical Psychologist can help! Contact Dr. Risa Sanders to discuss your concerns and schedule an appointment, at (703) 919-1959.