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Bullying Mental Health Parenting Recovery Suicide

Bullying: Helping the Bullied and the Bully

Compassion
Compassion (Photo credit: Sarit Photography)

As National Suicide Prevention Week continues, I realize we can’t let the week pass without talking about bullying. The recent documentary Bully deftly brought to light egregious bullying behavior, some of which led to suicide. The conversation continues, however. We are more aware now that the bullied child is suffering, often in silence, and often filled with shame and anger about why this is happening to them. They are always asking the eternal question, “Why me?”  Unfortunately, there are still an alarming number of bullying incidents that go undetected, and there continues to be a systemic problem in the way we deal with the bullies themselves and the children being bullied.

Children who are bullied won’t typically tell anyone this is happening,  typically feeling helpless in their endeavors to get help. From the bullied child’s perspective, there is an implication of great risk in asking for help. Experience has proven the bully makes sure they live in a state of fear of retaliation. This is particularly true when dealing with verbal bullying such as name calling, exclusion, ostracizing, rumors, racial, cultural, and sexual taunts. In these cases, proof is often difficult. This presents a catch-22 situation for parents, teachers, and administrators: it becomes one child’s word against another’s. As parents, we have to play the role of detective and suss out the situation, looking for key emotional and physical signs that our child is being bullied.

From Sheri Werner’s book In Safe Hands: Bullying Prevention and Compassion for All, she lists the following things to look for if we suspect bullying:

  • Becoming moody or short tempered.
  • Finding excuses for not wanting to go to school.
  • Claiming physical illnesses such as stomachaches and headaches that may have, in fact, actually evolved into such physical symptoms.
  • Returning to bedwetting.
  • Beginning to have nightmares.
  • Developing either a lack of appetite or increase of eating compulsively.
  • Having difficulty concentrating.
  • Deterioration in the quality of schoolwork.
  • Having insomnia, anxiety.
  • Starting to become quiet, withdrawn.
  • Exhibiting physical signs like bruises, torn clothing, scrapes, and so on.
  • Expressing sadness and/or violence in writing or drawings.
  • Displaying unusual acting out behaviors.

Bullying doesn’t have to end in suicide. Suicide is never the answer. You are your child’s greatest advocate. You have a multitude of options:

  • Individual counseling/therapy
  • Group counseling/therapy
  • Form your own support group
  • Become informed.
  • Go to the school: find out what they have in place for bullying prevention.
  • If they don’t have anything in place, take steps to help develop a school anti-bullying policy.

 

I’ve seen this more times than I care to admit: a bullying situation resulting in the bullied child being punished and/or being told to “ignore” the bully or try to “make friends” with him/her. In truth, the child bullied needs support and compassion. But so does the bully. Yes, you read that right. The bully needs support and compassion as well, and more than likely an intervention of sorts. I truly believe that bullying is a symptom of a greater problem. What that problem may be isn’t an excuse for the negative behavior, but it still needs to be addressed.

There’s no doubt that it’s difficult to find compassion for a child who bullies, because their behavior is so hurtful and over the top, but suffering comes in all shapes and forms and it behooves us to take this into consideration.  A kid who goes home to violence, neglect, etc., or who suffers from unaddressed mental illness or a learning disability, or who didn’t have sufficient emotional connection in their early years may not know how to handle problems that arise. From the perspective of the administration and teachers, this is really an opportunity (and challenge) to A: monitor the bully, and B: help redirect and reteach the bully to change their thinking and behavioral processes to fit into a healthier social model. For the bully, their saving grace might just be the school they are in, if that school has methods in place to help them. The key is not to give up on them; they, too, deserve a chance to recover and change.

 

There are resources out there! You are not alone in this, regardless if you are the parent of the bullied or the bully.

www.soulshoppe.com (elementary and middle school)

www.challengeday.org (high school)

Books to read:

The Mindful Child – Susan Keiser Greenland

In Safe Hands: Bullying Prevention With Compassion for All – Sheri Werner

Categories
Adolescence Bullying Communication Mental Health Parenting School Social Anxiety Stress

Time to Stop the Bullies

It hurts to be bullied. It hurts the spirit and the body, the confidence and self-worth. No one should have to live in that kind of fear or circumstance. So what are we going to do about it?

With the advent of the internet, bullying’s primary setting isn’t merely in schools and playgrounds anymore: it also thrives in the technological halls of the cyber world. It’s pervasive. There are two types of bullies:  popular, well-connected with social power, overly concerned about maintaining that popularity, and liking to be in charge. The second type tends to be the kid who is more isolated from their peers, easily pressured, has low self-esteem, is less involved in school and doesn’t easily identify with the emotions or feelings of others.

Those at risk of being bullied are kids who are perceived as separate or different from the norms or social mores of our culture. They are often seen as weak, they tend to be anxious or depressed, they are less popular, and are often viewed as annoying or provocative. As a result, these kids are more susceptible to falling prey to bullying behaviors, behaviors which aren’t always as black and white as we once thought. Here are some examples:

Physical bullying:

  • Hitting/kicking/ pinching
  • Spitting
  • Pushing/Tripping
  • Intentionally breaking someone’s things;
  • Making mean or rude hand gestures.

Verbal bullying:

  • Name calling: weirdo, freak, fag, idiot, ad infinitum.
  • Teasing
  • Threats to cause harm

Social bullying:

  • Leaving someone out on purpose;
  • Telling others not to be friends with someone;
  • Rumor spreading;
  • Public humiliation.

Cyber bullying:

  • Mean text messages or emails;
  • Rumors sent by email or posted on social media sites;
  • Fake profiles on sites like Facebook, Tumblr, et cetera.
  • Embarrassing photos or videos

Keep in mind, the most reported bullying happens on school grounds: in the hallways and on recess yards. It also occurs travelling to and from school. But nothing is really sacred. Cyber bullying is growing like wildfire as kids become increasingly savvy with technology.

It’s common for kids who are being bullied not to tell anyone because they may be afraid of the vengeful repercussions from the bullies themselves. Bullying is, in its very nature, a power structure built on dominance and fear-driven control. When someone is being terrorized by fearful tactics, it takes an incredible amount of courage to seek help. In the mind of the bullied, it’s a risk they are not always willing to take, so instead, the fear gets internalized, making its appearance in various ways:

  • Unexplained injuries;
  • Lost or damaged possessions;
  • Frequent headaches, stomachaches, feeling sick or faked illnesses;
  • Changes in eating habits: some may skip meals, some may binge. Some kids might come home hungry because their lunch was bullied away from them;
  • Sleep disturbances: insomnia or nightmares;
  • Declining grades, loss of interest in schoolwork, not wanting to go to school at all;
  • Loss of friends or avoidance of social situations;
  • Feelings of helplessness or decreased self-esteem;
  • Self-destructive behaviors: self-harming, running away, isolating, suicidal ideation.

Despite the fact that many schools have implemented anti-bullying policies, the administration doesn’t always carry them out in the most effective ways. I’ve experienced a principal in my son’s school who typically punishes the victim along with the bully, creating situation of victim-blaming, which encourages the bully and fundamentally creates shame in the bullied. In this particular case, a child ended up reverting inward and internalizing the fear, ultimately trying to handle it on his own. As a result, the persistent concern about being called a snitch or weak drove this child’s efforts toward self-directed management of the situation. Unfortunately, this is a perfect situation for the bully, and in many ways, this maintains the bully’s position of control. Not surprisingly, the bullying hasn’t stopped.

As parents, we need to find safe, productive ways to stop bullying behaviors. We can:

  • Work with the teacher to help raise awareness in the classroom. There are activities geared toward educating  kids
  • Make regular appearances at the school. Sometimes, the mere presence of a parent can stop bullying in its tracks.
  • Get up to speed on those social networking sites and explore safer ways to navigate technology
  • Find ways to present a unified front against bullying.
  • Establish an anti-bullying task force or committee. There’s power in numbers.
  • Help establish an environment of tolerance, acceptance of others, and respect.

This is also a great opportunity to take your kids to see Bully or go see it yourself if you can. It’s a limited engagement, but one you don’t want to miss. Time to take charge and stop bullying in its tracks.

For more information and for resources, check out:

Stopbullying.gov

SoulShoppe

Challenge Day