"How do I help my youth?"
What is Bullying?
Bullying is any form of aggression towards another person. Bullying can occur in different forms:
*physical (e.g., hitting, pushing, tripping, hair pulling or threats of physical harm)
*verbal (e.g., name calling, racial slurs, insults, put-downs, sexually abusive comments)
*social (e.g., social isolation/exclusion, spreading rumors, offensive racial gestures or making racist jokes)
*cyber (e.g., threats, insults, racial slurs, false rumors or photographs spread through the internet i.e. Facebook, Springform, Twitter, Blogs, websites, etc), instant messaging or by cell phone through text messaging, voice mail or calls.
School bullies typically watch out for situations in which they know they can get away with bullying behavior. Some bullies have been targets of bullying themselves. They target other children or youth who seem unlikely to defend themselves or to be protected by others. They usually choose places where there is not enough adult supervision or when youth are on their own in bathrooms, halls, or after school. But, more times than not, there are other students around who witness bullying take place.
Children and youth who witness a bullying act, or “bystanders”, can choose to either encourage the bullies, defend the victims, tell an adult, or do nothing at all. Bystanders often have the power to make a bullying situation better, but many choose not to get involved out of fear of what will happen to them.
Without help, victims of repeated bullying are often lonely, unhappy, and depressed for many years after the bullying has started. It is important to acknowledge that youth will most often not tell an adult for a variety of reasons, but mostly because they believe that the bullying will worsen if they tell.
Should I Be Worried?
If you suspect that the youth you care about is being bullied, below are some of the signs:
- Not talking to their friends or others
- Not wanting to be alone or wanting to stay in their room all day
- Complaining of Headaches, stomach aches, etc.
- Looking sad, moody or irritable, particularly after coming home from school
- Not wanting to identify the bully/bullies for fear of it getting worse
- Starting to behave aggressively towards others (friends, family and even bullies)
- Not wanting to go to school anymore
- Not wanting to go on the internet anymore
- Missing personal belongings such as I-pods, cell phones, hats, clothing, etc.
Bullying in Schools: LGBT youth at even higher risk
While trying to deal with all the challenges of being a teenager, gay/ lesbian/ bisexual/ transgender (LGBT) teens may also deal with harassment, threats, and violence directed at them on a daily basis. They may be called names, isolated, stereotyped, or attacked verbally and physically. Because of this, the mental/physical health and education of LGBT teens are at-risk.
Some people may think that being LGBT is a problem, but there is nothing wrong with youth who identify as LGBT—being treated differently and unfairly because of their orientation is the real problem. LGBT teens may be at higher risk because their distress is a direct result of the hatred and prejudice that they see and experience in their daily lives. Gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth are 2 to 3 times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual youth.
How Can I Help?
Bullying is hard for youth to stop on their own, because as victims of bullies, they often feel powerless and unsupported by others. If you suspect your youth is being bullied, you will need to talk to them to confirm your suspicions. They may have minimized what has been happening or may not have told you about the bullying at all so as to not alarm you. You can help your youth to make a plan to keep them safe and stop the bullies in their tracks. Firstly, you may have to process your own emotions, once you know your youth has been bullied; they need to see your confidence and ability to help them, but they also need your care and compassion as it takes courage to disclose the experience of having been bullied.
It is important that you speak to your youth about the bullying incidents so you can support them and be able to ask the school to come up with a plan to help them deal with the situation. It is also important for them to know that they are not to blame. Be a good listener and ask them what they have been doing so far to stay safe and to cope. Getting angry at them for how they have dealt with it or not, will not be helpful. Remind them that the bully or bullies may be hurting other people as well. Also remind them that their teachers and school staff may have noticed changes in them and may already be concerned about them.
Research shows that children and youth who report bullying to an adult are less likely to experience bullying in the future. It will be important to sit down with your youth to discuss some of the following strategies to take away the power that bullies seem to have over them:
1.)Walk and speak with confidence: encourage your youth to hold their head up high and try not to look afraid, even if they are feeling afraid on the inside. Bullies target people who look like they lack confidence and assertiveness. If your youth looks like you won’t take their bullying anymore, they may stop targeting them.
2.) Bullies are looking from a response from their victims, like fear, upset, or avoidance. Bullies can be surprised by the youth ignoring them, saying something sarcastic, or telling them that they are not affecting them (e.g. “Is that the best that you can come up with?”; “Is that supposed to bother me?”, etc). If bullies get no response from their victims, they often will eventually stop targeting them.
3.) Don’t try to “bully back”. Bullies may be looking for a fight, so encourage your youth not to give it to them.
4.) Report inappropriate comments, threats, and other concerning messages sent to them over the internet or cell phone. Block the person, report it to the network, or bring it to your attention as the parent or caregiver. You may need to come up with a clear plan with your youth if the bullying is through ongoing texting messages or comments on Facebook, Twitter or Springform.
Although bullying is one of a parent’s worst nightmares, it is something that can be stopped. Ongoing communication and intervention is key. Talk to your youth’s school and ensure that a safety plan and plan of action is in place. Try to help identify who the bullies are and demand that their behavior is addressed by both the school and parents involved. Find out about what bullying prevention and intervention measures are being put in place at the school level. Ask about a possible bullying prevention committee at your youth’s school and request to be involved. If needed, also consider counseling for your youth to help them build the skills and confidence to stand up to bullying and prevent future victimization. As a parent or caregiver, your support and advocacy can make all the difference to your youth.