Understanding Bullying is the First Step Toward Preventing It

Note: This is the first article in a three-part series concerning bullying and how to prevent it.

Thanks to stopbullying.gov for much of the information in this article

It is far too common. A child is embarrassed online. Maybe other kids call her names, whisper about her when she walks by, leave her out of group activities. Maybe it gets physical, or things are stolen from her. Any, or all of these things, can happen over and over again.

The Federation often received calls from parents concerned that their child is a victim of bullying. In fact, over 70 percent of young people say that they have seen bullying in their school. Kids who bully use their power—such as physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or popularity—to control or harm others. Bullying can include teasing, name-calling, intimidation, humiliation, taunting, spreading rumors or lies, demands for money, online harassment, sexual harassment, physical assault, theft and destruction of property. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.

Bullying can occur any time or place, including in a school building, on the playground, on the bus, in the child’s neighborhood or online. Depending on the environment, children with disabilities may be at higher risk for being bullied. While no one factor indicates that a child is more at risk of being bullied, generally, children who are bullied have one or more of the following risk factors:

  • Are perceived as different from their peers, such as being overweight or underweight, wearing glasses or different clothing, or being new to a school.
  • Are perceived as weak or unable to defend themselves.
  • Are depressed, anxious, or have low self-esteem.
  • Are less popular than others and have few friends.
  • Do not get along well with others, seen as annoying or provoking, or antagonize others for attention.

The children more likely to bully others may be well-connected to their peers, have social power, are overly concerned about their popularity, and like to dominate or be in charge of others. On the other hand, they may also be more isolated from their peers and may be depressed or anxious, have low self-esteem, be less involved in school, be easily pressured by peers, or not identify with the emotions or feelings of others.

Any one of these risk factors – for bullying or being a target of bullying – does not necessarily mean that a child will be bullied.

There are many warning signs that may indicate that someone is affected by bullying—either being bullied or bullying others. Recognizing the warning signs is an important first step in taking action against bullying. Not all children who are bullied or are bullying others ask for help.

It is important to talk with children who show signs of being bullied or bullying others. These warning signs can also point to other issues or problems, such as depression or substance abuse. Talking to the child can help identify the root of the problem.

Some signs that may point to a bullying problem are:

  • Unexplainable injuries.
  • Lost or destroyed clothing, books, electronics, or jewelry.
  • Frequent headaches or stomach aches, feeling sick or faking illness.
  • Changes in eating habits, like suddenly skipping meals or binge eating. Kids may come home from school hungry because they did not eat lunch.
  • Difficulty sleeping or frequent nightmares.
  • Declining grades, loss of interest in schoolwork, or not wanting to go to school.
  • Sudden loss of friends or avoidance of social situations.
  • Feelings of helplessness or decreased self-esteem.
  • Self-destructive behaviors such as running away from home, harming themselves, or talking about suicide.

Look for changes in the child. However, be aware that not all children who are bullied exhibit warning signs.

If you are concerned about your child and bullying, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. The Federation call center is available, 617-236-7210, 800-331-0688 or fcsn.org/pti.

Part 2 What steps should the parent take if child is being bullied at school?

Part 3 What steps should the school do to prevent bullying and create a safe school environment?