Robin Blitz, MD
Chief and Director, Developmental Pediatrics at Barrow at Phoenix Children's
Bullying: What Parents Should Know
Bullying is a behavioral epidemic that affects many children of all ages. It can happen in the classroom, on the playground and across the Internet.
So what is bullying? According to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Stop Bullying website, it is any kind of unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves “a real or perceived power imbalance. Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally and excluding someone from a group on purpose.”
Bullying behavior can be verbal, physical or social. It can happen anywhere: In school, on the playground, the sports field and through the Internet. Bullying is repetitive and affects everyone, the victim, the bully, and the witnesses, with the potential to impact mental health, substance abuse, and suicide.
It can be painful for parents to watch their child struggle with bullies. They may feel helpless, unable to stop the situation, or may be concerned that that the child may be ridiculed if parents become involved. Parents can play a key role in supporting their child to help stop bullying, whether the child is the victim of a bully or the bully.
Know the Warning Signs
It may not be obvious that a child is suffering at the hands of a bully. For parents, it is important to know the warning signs that may indicate a child is being bullied or is bullying others. Some of these include:
- Injuries that are not easily explained
- Signs of anxiety, like stomachaches or complaints of illness
- Missing possessions, like books or toys
- Poor grades that may decline over time
- Changes in eating, sleeping or other habits
- Feelings of sadness or interest in self-harm*
*If a child expresses interest in hurting themselves, seek help right away.
There are also warning signs to watch for if you suspect your child is bullying others, including:
- Participating in physical fights
- Being sent to detention or the principal’s office
- Blaming others for issues and refusal to accept responsibility for wrongdoing
- Showing concern for his or her popularity
Bullying today can look very different than it did even a decade ago. Today, children have access to the Internet on computers, tables, and smartphones with its thousands of social media websites and apps. While the Internet is a valuable resource, it can also be another way for children to bully one another. Keep these tips in mind, when your child uses the Internet:
- Know what your child is doing online on all electronic devices, including their phones, what sites they are visiting and who they are talking to
- Talk to your child about cyberbullying and encourage him or her to talk to you if they experience anything that fits the description
- Explain to your child how they can be safe online
- Limit your child’s screen time and encourage him or her to spend time away from their computers, tablets and phones
- Research your child’s school to see if staff has developed a technology policy. Sharing this with your child can help him or her understand what’s acceptable and what is not.
Talk to Your Child about Bullying
For parents, it can be difficult and uncomfortable to talk to children about bullying. Here’s where to start:
- Help your child understand what bullying is and why it is unacceptable
- Urge your child to talk to you about his or her experiences and ask them how they are doing
- Know who your child’s friends are and what your child is doing online
- Show your child how to treat others respectfully; model this behavior
- Encourage them to get help for other children who experience bullying
For more information and resources on identifying and stopping bullying behavior, visit the U.S Department of Health and Human Services’ Stop Bullying site.