Whether your child is in grade school or high school, bullying can be a serious issue that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.
Todd Walts, executive director of Campus Impact USA in Amherst, speaks at schools and other organizations to bring the topic of bullying to the forefront and to let students know it can be stopped. He has three criteria he uses to define bullying versus an isolated student conflict.
“There are really three components to bullying, which I call the ABCs,” explains Walts. “There has to be an aggressive behavior, an imbalance of power — meaning the person doing the bullying has power over (the victim) — and it is continuous.”
“With bullying, you don’t get Christmas break off or summer vacation,” he adds, especially for students in middle and high school. “It happens 24/7. Social media has really exacerbated the problem.”
Children being bullied often exhibit physical signs, according to Dr. Scott Francy, a pediatrician with Cleveland Clinic Children’s. Warning signs include being withdrawn, anxious or scared, with physical symptoms such as abdominal pain and headaches. They also may suffer from low self-esteem.
“When you see certain patterns, you can start to put it all together,” Francy says. “But often times, it is not until they are in my office that they cry and disclose they are being bullied.”
Francy believes more awareness about the problem of bullying is helping, and points to recent study results in the Journal of Pediatrics. The information is based on a 10-year study among students in grades fourth through 12th which indicates that although bullying is still prevalent, it has decreased slightly among school-aged youth. However, it still has a long way to go.
He advises parents to ask their children direct questions at the end of the school day.
“You don’t want to just say ‘How was your day?’” he says. “To get more information, parents need to ask ‘What did you do at school today?’ or ‘Were there any problems with kids at school today?’”
According to Walts, it is important for children to know they have someone they can talk to if they are being bullied.
Those being bullied need to be encouraged to tell their parents, teacher or school counselor. If the first person the student reaches out to doesn’t provide much of a response, they should tell another adult.
“Having friends and having a support system is very critical to all students,” he says. “Children should always feel they can share what is happening. Victims need to know they haven’t done anything wrong and the bullying is not their fault.”
Moreover, Walts explains even those not being bullied play a big role when they know someone else is having a difficult time. “When bullying happens, every person who knows it is going on has a role. You are either part of the problem or you are part of the solution.”
Walts challenges other students to stand up and defend the bullying victim. If that isn’t possible, they should tell a trusted adult what is happening or get the victim out of the immediate situation.
At the elementary level, children may be the victim of verbal and emotional bullying. The behaviors expand in middle school and high school, and may involve cyberbullying or purposefully excluding someone from a group. Cell phones and social media have made it difficult for those being bullied to get a reprieve from the situation.