By Zachary D. Campbell, Lawyer at Metzger Wickersham
Currently, most people would agree that society as a whole tends to be overstressed given the state of affairs and the ongoing pandemic in America. Unfortunately, a side effect of stress is a greater level of bullying not only among children, but also adults. School-age children tend to mimic adult behaviors which has the effect of sometimes escalating minor disputes into major bullying situations. One out of every five (20.2%) school-age children report being bullied. Of those children who reported being bullied,
- 13% were made fun of, called names, or insulted;
- 13% were the subject of rumors;
- 5% were pushed, shoved, tripped, or spit on; and
- 5% were excluded from activities on purpose (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2019 ).
Bullying is a pattern of behavior, rather than an isolated incident; this is not surprising given the bickering we see between adults both in real life and on TV. Lack of civility seems to be a major problem in today’s society, which can been seen within the legal field as well. Lawyers can often display a lack of civility to their opponents. However, it is morally a lawyer’s job in addition to adults to set better examples for our youth. In order to help educate and raise awareness of bullying prevention, October is designated as National Bullying Prevention Month.
What are the consequences of bullying?
Children who are bullied are more likely to experience:
- low self-esteem and isolation,
- perform poorly in school,
- have few friends in school,
- have a negative view of school,
- experience physical symptoms (such as headaches, stomachaches, or problems sleeping), and to experience mental health issues (such as depression, suicidal thoughts, and anxiety), according to the Center for Disease Control.
This also can lead to further problems later in life. Children who are subjected to bullying tend to have a higher rate of substance abuse. Bullying cannot be written off as a “rite of passage” or “part of growing up.” Bullying can have serious consequences not only for the victim but also the bully themselves. Bullying is a behavior, not an identity. Labeling as child as a “bully” can have a detrimental effect on their future and often limits their ability to change their behavior (StopBullying.gov, 2016 ).
As adults, we must set examples of what is appropriate and inappropriate behavior. To access information and strategies to advocate for your child, visit The National Bullying Prevention Center’s website. Learn how to address and prevent peer to peer bullying and promote kindness, acceptance, and inclusion.
If your child is experiencing bullying…
If you discover that your child is being bullied, you may feel a variety of emotions, from anger to fear to sadness. According to The Center, these reactions and emotional responses are natural for parents who want their child to feel valued, protected, and loved. To become an effective advocate for your child, it is important to acknowledge your emotions and then focus on developing an action plan to help your child.
When you first talk with your child about bullying, be prepared to listen without judgment, and provide a safe and supportive place where your child can work out his or her feelings. Children may not be ready to open up right away as they, too, are dealing with the emotional effects of bullying and may be feeling insecure, frightened, vulnerable, angry, or sad. When your child begins to tell their story, just listen and avoid making judgmental comments. It is important to listen and encourage your child to talk. Let them know you are there to help and they are not alone.
- It is NOT their fault. They are not to blame.
- They are NOT alone. You are here to help.
- It is the adults’ responsibility make the bullying stop.
- Bullying is never okay and they have the right to be safe.
- No one deserves to be bullied.
- They deserve to be treated with respect.
- They have the right to feel safe at school.
Create an Action Plan Against Bullying
As a parent looking for solutions, it’s important not only to be informed, but also to have a plan. Whether your child is being bullied, witnessing bullying, or bullying others, you can help them create a plan to change their situation.
By allowing them to help in creating the action plan, you can build self confidence in your child. These strategies can be utilized to work with the strengths and abilities your child already has in place. However, there are certain reactions that the Center recommends to avoid.
- Avoid telling your child to stand up to the bully. This can imply that it is your child’s responsibility to handle the situation.
- Do not instruct your child to ignore the bully. More likely than not, your child probably has tried to ignore the bullying. However, if the bully realizes the victim is intentionally ignoring them, it could actually further ignite the bullying.
- Parents should never take matters into their own hands. The Center has found that calling the bully’s parents or directly confronting the bullying child is ineffective. It also takes the empowerment of being involved in correcting the situation out of your child’s hand. Empowering your child is a very important step in the process of stopping bullying.
As a society, our youth are our most important asset. It is our responsibility to make sure bullying is stopped. There is no place for it. Bullying is about control with the intent to hurt, harm, or humiliate. Teaching respect, kindness, acceptance, inclusion, and empathy should begin at a very early age. Instilling these concepts along with messages on tolerance are important for younger children to learn how to maintain positive relationships. It is not too late for adults to learn these healthy behaviors as well. Taking a step back is the most important advice we can give to our extremely stressed society. Having a conflict or a difference of opinion is not the same as bullying. We can all disagree on things but it should never escalate to the level of bullying.
As we move towards 2021, Metzger Wickersham encourages our community to work together to end bullying and to help build a better society for our children’s future.