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"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me." This children's rhyme may be popular, but it is also plain wrong — children who are the targets of bullying may experience extreme stress, fear of school or the neighborhood, academic underperformance, physical symptoms of illness, and even suicidal feelings. Bullying, whether it involves physical harassment or is limited to verbal abuse, is far from harmless. It destroys childhoods.
If you're anything like me, a 30-something parent, you will probably have heard some of the same things I did from your parents and your general environment. "Ignore the bullies." "Just be nice, and it will be fine." "Don't tattle — sort it out among your friends." "Just be yourself, and they'll like you." Then there's, of course, "This is a normal part of childhood."
These messages, while they can make the adults involved in the lives of children who are the targets of bullying feel like they are doing something, are actually far from helpful.
Bullying is a multifaceted concept, and one that has evolved a bit since the current generation of parents were children. There is, of course, name-calling, gossiping, excluding a child from activities, systematically setting out to socially isolate a child from their peer group, and spreading rumors about a child. In today's world, depending on your child's age, much of that will be developing online and through smart phones — peers may spread gossip using text messages or messaging systems, and through social media, and this may include pictures. Cyberbullying can also be perpetrated by members of the child's online community, in other words people they don't know in real life.
In addition to these vicious forms of mental harassment, which are quite enough to destroy a child's quality of life, bullying may also include physical harassment. Kicking, punching, breaking their things, and attempting to manipulate a child into sexual activities can all be part of bullying.
The really shocking statistic is represented by the 85 percent of bullying cases in which schools don't make an effective effort to halt bullying. That means much of the responsibility to improve your child's quality of life falls on you, the parent.
Bullying: Tell-Tale Signs Your Child May Be A Victim
In the best-case scenario, your child will have simply told you — or perhaps their teacher, or a grandparent, or another trusted adult — what has been happening. That does not, unfortunately, always happen. For various reasons, including fear and shame, your child may be very reluctant to talk about their experience.
Signs that something is wrong, and that your child is possibly being bullied, can include:
- Your child doesn't talk about friends at school, and doesn't seem to have any.
- Your child is reluctant to go to school, and may even frequently suffer from tummy aches or headaches, and use them as a reason to avoid school.
- Your child's academic performance is suffering.
- Your child has become withdrawn, aggressive, or sad much of the time.
- Clothes or other items go missing without explanation, or your child has unexplained bruises.
- Your child is suddenly spending much more or less time online, and doesn't want to talk about why or what they are doing online.