Childhood bullying has been an epidemic in and outside of schools for generations. It affects kids from all different walks of life, not limited to any single demographic, financial or social background—for both bullies and the bullied. This phenomenon, which didn’t even have a formal definition until 2014, is therefore difficult for adults to understand, spot, and respond to, which is why it remains a serious and prevalent problem in schools today. Nearly 1 in 3 U.S. students report they have been bullied. Larger studies found that almost 50% of children in grades 4-12 reported being bullied at least once during the past month, meaning the issue may be more widespread than we even know.
As adults, while we may not be able to understand what our youth are going through, we can give them the tools and confidence to stand up to bullying. The proliferation of social media makes it even easier for kids to bully and be bullied, meaning it is now more important than ever to step in and empower however we can. Here’s how you can start:
- Emphasize strength in numbers: For bullying and other social phenomena, there exists the bystander effect. This is where people feel less confident or less responsible for intervening in the situation because often times, they feel like they alone can’t make an impact. Encourage your child to stick together with a group of friends to (non-violently) reduce a bully’s power and support each other—and encourage them to talk to their friends if they are bullied one-on-one. Inviting victims to leave the situation is a powerful statement of support, while also reminding victims that they aren’t to blame. Teaching these in-the-moment tips will help build a trusting community at the expense of the bully.
- Break out the “block” button: While adults can’t invade their kids’ privacy and check up on their social media messages, if there are signs of cyberbullying, teach them the all-powerful blocking feature. Immediately blocking bullies cuts out all the hateful vitriol. It works on any social platform, and can be done without much effort. Take it one step further: Some apps like Instagram also allow you to filter out comments using keywords (beneficial for those kids with larger followings).
- Teach ways to build confidence and self-assertion, and be a good role model: It’s no secret that our kids learn many of their behaviors from us. If you find yourself backing down easily or being pushed around in your own personal and professional lives, your kid will notice and feel less confident to assert him or herself. Teach them ways to get their needs met while being respectful of other people with phrases that you too can use (e.g., “I don’t appreciate you cutting us in line,” “Hey, stop that.”). Research finds that bullies frequently have a “testing” period where they use verbal harassment to determine if they can effectively target the other child. If you can teach them those dynamics and arm them with strong statements of defiance, the bully will be much more likely to take their nonsense elsewhere.
Empowering our children to stand up to bullying isn’t a one-and-done situation. We must give them the confidence and tools, provide ongoing support and check in on them as they move through high school, and even into the college years. Showing them how to exhibit strength, open a dialogue with trustworthy adults, and protect themselves online are just the start—each child responds to bullying in different ways. For more anti-bullying resources for children, parents and schools, head over to stopbullying.gov.
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