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Bullying is hurtful; encourage a child to tell about bullying

Jul. 26, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

Excitement is building for students looking forward to a new school year that will be underway sooner than it seems possible.

But some children cannot be excited about the next first day of school, especially if they have been bullied in the past.

Bullying is aggressive behavior based on a power imbalance occurring more than once. People who bully use their power to show their physical strength, their access to embarrassing information, or their popularity. They exert control, intimidate or harm other people.

Examples of bullying can include spreading rumors and gossiping, teasing, taunting, name calling, threats to do harm, intentionally ignoring or leaving out someone, telling others not to be friends with someone, embarrassing someone in public, hitting, kicking, pushing, spitting, tripping and/or breaking or taking belongings. Bullying can happen anywhere: at school, at the bus stop, on the playground, at a friend's house or online on the internet.

As many as 30 percent of all children are victims or perpetrators of bullying at some time in their lives, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (see www.cdc.gov). The CDC has declared bullying a major public health problem among school age children. The CDC is studying the risk factors for bullying and the protective factors. They are working on measuring bullying experiences and developing bullying instigator or "perpetrator," bullying victim and bullying bystander evaluations that can prevent a child from continuing to experience the detrimental effects of bullying.

The children who bully, the children who are victims, children that both bully and have been bullied and bystanders who witness bullying can suffer long-term problems. Bystanders who witness bullying have been overlooked, however, youth who witness or hear about bullying say they experience feelings of guilt or helplessness for not confronting the bully or not supporting the victim. Bystanders and other witnesses may distance themselves from the person being bullied to avoid being bullied themselves.

Adolescents who bully others are also more likely to show other defiant or delinquent behaviors including bringing weapons to school. Kids who bully are more likely to have poor school performance and are more likely to drop out of school, according to the CDC (see www.cdc.gov). Children who experience bullying often report feeling depressed and anxious, having low self-esteem, thinking about suicide and attempting suicide. The effects of online bullying experiences, called cyber-bullying, are similar to the negative effects of bullying in person, although it is more likely for bullying to occur in person than online (see www.cdc.gov). There have been incidents of school violence that had bullying as a root cause.

One way to eliminate or minimize the impact of bullying is to teach youth to be more than a bystander. When your child hears or sees someone being bullied, teach them not to give the child bullying an audience. Instead of laughing or supporting it, let your child know to say something like, "that's not funny" or "that's not entertaining or nice" and walk away. Your child might be able to help a child being bullied to get out of the way and go somewhere safe near a teacher or school counselor, so long as they are not putting themselves at risk of being harmed. Children should tell a trusted adult, like a teacher or school counselor, about the bullying behavior so the adult can intervene and stop it if they catch it in time or can help support the child being bullied. Children can also help by being a friend to another child who is being bullied. Being nice to them at another time helps the child not feel so alone. Tell your children to be a good role model and set a good example themselves, treating others as they would want to be treated.

Some other general guidelines about bullying will be helpful. Never tell a child to ignore bullying. Ignoring it might make it worse. Also, never tell a child to fight back (hit, punch, kick, spit, push, etc.). It might get your child hurt or suspended from school or expelled. Encourage the child to tell about the bullying instead. Never blame the child being bullied. Children do not deserve to be bullied. Finally, resist the urge to contact the other parents -- it could make it worse. Let school personnel handle the problem.

Parents, schools, organizations and members of the community play important roles in stopping bullying. Bullying should be taken seriously, and children taught that harming anyone else is wrong. There is no evidence that "zero tolerance" policies or "three strikes you are out" rules are effective; they just result in more school suspensions and expulsions. Having to face the bully to resolve the conflict also does not help and it might further traumatize the child being bullied. Activities that express what it means to be a good friend, random acts of kindness, writing stories about the harmful effects of bullying, role-playing scenarios of how to be a good friend and making posters or collages about friendships or bullying are helpful for all children. For children who have bullied, help them write apologies to those they have bullied to make amends or do a good deed to make up for bullying. Cleaning up, repairing or replacing damaged property is another good idea that teaches responsibility for bullying.

Prestera Center offers counseling to adults, children and families experiencing problems with bullying. Children and families get better with the right kind of care. Prestera Center offers a variety of services that promote mental and physical wellness and help people achieve their full potential.

Prestera Center offers Putnam County residents access to effective professional mental health and addictions treatment services in Winfield and Hurricane. Offices in Winfield are located at 3389 Winfield Road, Suite 8, on the grounds of the Courthouse Complex (304-586-0670). Offices in Hurricane are called "Hopewell" and are located at 3772 Teays Valley Road (304-757-8475). The Hopewell offices specialize in serving adults with insurance in need of addiction treatment and mental health problems like grief, depression and anxiety or more severe mental health problems. Both offices are accepting new clients and scheduling appointments. Walk-ins are also welcome Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. at the Winfield location.

Kim Miller is the director of Corporate Development at Prestera. She can be reached at kim.miller@prestera.org.

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