Bullying is repeatedly unwanted, aggressive behavior, intentionally directed towards people who are perceived to be weaker or different. It involves an imbalance of power, where people who are physically stronger, popular, smarter or have access to potentially harmful or embarrassing information, use their advantages to control or harm others.
Although we can find bullies at every stage of life, at school, at home or even at work, this pattern of behavior is most often seen in children. Bullying at this vulnerable young age has serious and long-lasting effects on the physical and emotional health of a child and should be acknowledged and addressed at the earliest.
Types of Bullying
- Verbal: Making threats, name calling, taunting, making inappropriate sexual comments
- Physical: Hitting, punching, deliberately tripping and other violent behavior, destruction of property
- Social: spreading rumors, exclusion from peer groups, deliberately embarrassing them in front of others, playing pranks on them
- Cyberbullying: Using technology and the internet to send threatening, embarrassing or harmful messages, pictures or videos, through email, social media platforms, text messages or websites. This is most common in adolescents today, with the social media boom.
Warning Signs to help recognize bullying
There are some common patterns that may be observed in children who are the victims of bullying, like:
- Repeated headaches or stomach aches
- Making excuses to avoid going to school, classes or practices
- Silent, moody, withdrawn and isolated: sudden loss of friendships and avoiding social situations
- Depressed, anxious and prone to crying easily
- Visibly upset after a social event, gathering, after school, after social media interaction
- Loss or destruction of personal property (clothes, books or electronics)
- Asks for money, very often for unsubstantiated reasons
- Shows signs of physical injury, bruises etc.
- Low self-esteem
- Deteriorating academic performance: inability to concentrate in class, skipping class
- Sleep disturbances, frequent nightmares
- Secretive and non-communicative
- Angry outbursts without provocation
- Suicidal or self-harming behaviors
- Eating disorders
- Alcohol or drug use
Steps that can be taken if it is suspected that a child is a victim of bullying
- Open communication on how to respond to bullying Children may choose to walk away to remove themselves from the situation, or talk to friends , family or a trusted adult at school about the incident.
- Ensure safety to the child and encourage them to divulge details of the incidents
- In cases of cyberbullying, keep evidence like screenshots or relevant files. Service providers may also be contacted to report problems with bullying. Most social media platforms have the option of reporting or blocking accounts that perpetuate harmful behavior.
- Take the school (principal or counsellors, teachers) or concerned authorities into confidence
- Take a follow up with the school, to ensure that steps were taken to address the issue and that the behavior or incidents of bullying were not being repeated.
- When bullying escalates to cause physical harm, sexual violence, threats or sharing explicit images of children, the local authorities like the police may have to get involved.
Strategies to Prevent Bullying
- Talking about bullying before it happens helps to prepare the child on how to respond to it in the future. Anti- bullying campaigns are often run in schools and educational institutes, who have also adopted strict policies against this type of behavior.
- Younger children can be encouraged to talk about their regular day at school, so that changes in moods or routines can be picked up early on.
- Arm children with a plan for responding to an incident of bullying, either walking away, asking the person to stop, speaking to a trusted adult or friend about it.
- Encourage children to be a defender instead of a bystander.
Very often, due to fear or peer pressure, other children witnessing the bullying, either ignore it or participate in it themselves, thereby worsening the incident and the effect on the child being bullied. Children should be encouraged to defend the victim, sit or walk with children who may be targeted, or report it to the concerned authorities. This helps to correct the “imbalance of power” perceived by the bully and makes the victim feel supported and not isolated, while dealing with the issue.
- Cyberbullying is more challenging as its participants can be un-named and un-known. It is therefore helpful to have clear lines of communication open with children regarding the use of online devices and applications, ground rules for time spent online and use of language that is respectful. Age appropriate parental controls can be set up and it would be helpful to know the children’s social media passwords and account details. Children should not accept friend requests from unknown accounts, should understand that anything posted on the internet stays forever and that accounts showing or spreading inappropriate behavior should be blocked and reported.
Communicating with Bullies
Children who indulge in bullying behavior have often been victims of bullying themselves, either at home or at school. They may be dealing with complicated emotions and may not know how to process them. Steps should be taken to find out the underlying problem that is causing them to act out, as well as enforce appropriate restrictions or consequences for their actions. Elicit the help of counsellors, psychologists or mental health professionals who are trained to deal with children exhibiting this kind of behavior.
Disclaimer: Disclaimer: The above information is for awareness and education purposes only and cannot be used for diagnosis or treatment of any condition. Please consult with a physician for any concerns or questions