For several years I have given parent and child workshops on the topic of teasing versus bullying within a school environment. The first workshop I gave was at the school my daughters attended in Los Angeles Unified School District. This topic is almost more important today then it was several years ago when I started my workshop series. To tease is to make fun of or attempt to provoke in a playful way. There are certain elements of teasing that have to be met including: everyone is involved in the teasing and you can switch roles (be the teaser and then the one being teased); not making fun of someone’s disabilities, ethnicity, faith or other characteristics out of a person’s control; is not repeated over and over; not meant to harm anyone; and everyone is on an equal level. In contrast, to bully is to use aggressive behavior or strength to intimidate someone. The elements of bullying include: an intention to hurt someone or do harm; a perceived imbalance of power; there is a pattern of the aggressive behavior; there is no mutual joking and does not involve any play. It has recently come to my attention that in several states the condition of a pattern of the aggressive behavior might not be needed for the behavior to be labeled as bullying.
There are several types of bullying – physical, verbal, indirect, social alienation, intimidation, and cyberbullying. Physical bullying includes any physical contact that hurts a person such as hitting, kicking or punching. Verbal bullying might be name calling, jokes about a person’s religion, gender, ethnicity, appearance, disability, or socioeconomic status. Excluding others from a group and spreading lies, secrets, rumors or exaggerated stories about someone is indirect bullying. Social alienation includes pointing out the differences in others and excluding others from a group. Using threats to frighten others would be considered intimidation bullying. Bullying happens with the highest prevalence between fourth and seventh grades. Usually most bullying happens on playgrounds, recess, nutrition, and lunch times when adults are not readily accessible. There is an equal prevalence of bullying between girls and boys. Finally, cyberbullying is sending pictures, messages, or information using electronic media, computers, and/or cell phones.
Unfortunately, cyberbullying has become more prevalent. The increase in cyberbullying can be contributed to bullies feeling that there is less accountability through electronic media. The access to social media has also increased bullying as bullies engage in targeted aggression towards targets online. There can be an anonymous quality to the cyberbullying when a bully creates a bogus Instagram or snapchat to engage in aggressive and humiliating targeted damage of someone’s reputation online. The rules of school or social mores do not encumber these bully from acting cruel and unkind towards others. Another challenging part of this is that what is posted online is permanent. This cyberbullying is responsible for too many suicides of targets recently. The increase in cyberbullying has extended the bullying behavior through early high school.
Is your child a bully with his/her peers? Bullies seem as if they hold themselves in high self regard and appear self confident. However, it is a facade. Often they have low self esteem. Children who bully tend to see aggressive behavior in a positive way, have difficulty following rules, are easily frustrated, have friends who bully others, act openly condescending towards others, can be domineering, argumentative, and lack respect for authority. Bullies might also be bullied themselves by someone in their life. A child who bullies might need to find someone to pick on to make him/herself feel better. They have low empathy for others. Bullies are overly concerned about how s/he is seen by his/her peers. There might be an aggressive nature to his/her interactions with others.
Is your child a target of bullying? Targets can be shy and/or socially uncomfortable. They can be seen as weak or fragile. Targets are often sad, lonely, nervous, sick, and want to stay home from school.
Has your child witnessed bullying as a bystander? Bystanders watch and are aware of bullying behavior but do not participate in the situation positively or negatively. Bystanders watch silently or laugh nervously. This can be interpreted by the bully as approval. Bystanders fear having the bully turn on them or associate them with the target.
Research has shown that most school age children and middle school age children rate children as “cool” if they have seen the children as aggressive or bullying others. If a child has been aggressive towards others, then the child’s social status is elevated and this child is marked as “cool and popular.” Anti-bullying programs have discussed how aggressive behavior and bullying is wrong. However, this has fallen on deaf ears because the children are hearing that the “cool and popular” kids are wrong. This does not equate. It seems like an anti-bullying program at this time should be working with the bystanders to discuss how to step in to stop the aggressive behavior or not to reward the bully with watching or a nervous laugh. This means making bystanders into upstanders. Upstanders are individuals who either stop the aggressive behavior or get an adult to intervene.
Adults must recognize the difference between teasing and bullying. All students should feel safe at school and at home while online. Parents need to take a more active role by talking and listening to their children about school and monitoring what their children are doing on their electronic devices. Notice I bolded listening because it is so important to listen to our children and not jump all over them with questions or solutions. Our role as parents is to raise independent self-sufficient adults and believe it or not your child will need your support no matter what his/her role is in this situation. Just listen and empower your child to have his/her role by listening and supporting him/her. However, parents should allow the school administrators to do their job to address any bullying situations that arise and not get involved other than report any existence. Do not attempt to resolve the bullying situation yourself by contacting the bully, the target, or bystanders, or other parents. Let the school administrators investigate.
More to follow in additional entries on this topic.