The movie Mean Girls may have been fictional, but much of the story line rings true for children and teens today. Nearly one in five students has been bullied, according to a recent study from Olweus Bullying Prevention Program — and bullying has taken a high-tech turn with social media. Now kids can log onto Facebook or Twitter to bash classmates. Insulting text messages complicate the matter even further.
The worst part of bullying: Kids feel helpless and vulnerable with nowhere to turn. Parents often are the last to know because kids don’t want to tattle and fear backlash from bullies. Andy McGarrahan, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at Children’s, says parents play a key role in identifying whether their children are being bullied — or bullying others. Dr. McGarrahan’s tips will help you navigate the world of bullying.
Warning Signs a Child is Being Bullied
- Declining grades, loss of interest in schoolwork or not wanting to go to school
- Persistent sadness and/or excessive worrying
- Lost or destroyed clothing, books, electronics or jewelry
- Frequent headaches or stomachaches, feeling sick or faking illness
- Difficulty sleeping or frequent nightmares
- Sudden loss of friends or avoidance of social situations
- Feelings of helplessness or decreased self-esteem
WHAT YOU SHOULD DO: If you notice any of these signs, talk to your child and ask how other kids are treating him or her. Give the child ways to cope with the situation, but if he or she is in physical danger or cannot handle it on his or her own, contact a school authority for help resolving the problem. Always involve the child in the process. If you are not satisfied with the action taken, escalate the issue. Remember, you are your child’s best advocate.
On the Flip Side: Signs a Child May Be a Bully
- Gets into physical or verbal fights
- Has friends who bully others
- Gets sent to the principal’s office or to detention frequently
- Has unexplained extra money or new belongings
- Blames others for his or her problems
- Has difficulty understanding how another child may feel
WHAT YOU SHOULD DO: If you think your child may be bullying others, intervene and stress that his or her behavior is inappropriate, hurtful and comes with consequences. Talk to the child’s teachers and be open to feedback, even if it is hard to hear. Teach him or her empathy and remember that a meaningful apology is always necessary. Follow through to make sure the behavior has stopped.