The Issue of Bullying in Children and Adolescents
By: Andre Amaro, Masters Level Intern
Summer vacation is coming to a close for many of our children and adolescents, and the new school year is nearly upon us. This could be either an exciting time for your kids or teens, or this could be a stressful and anxious time for them as well. The start of a new school year is an opportunity to make new friends and create new and meaningful experiences during one’s education; however, there is no doubt that the start of a new school year can also pose many difficult challenges for our children and adolescents to overcome. Many of these challenges are issues surrounding peers and establishing healthy relationships with others. Something that I have come across during my work with children and adolescents are issues surrounding bullying and learning how to respond when one becomes a victim of bullying. Since the start of the new school year is vastly approaching; I thought it would be a great opportunity to talk about the issue of bullying, and prepare parents for how they can help their children cope with difficulties surrounding peers, as well as notice the signs or symptoms if your child may be a victim of bullying. My goal is to hopefully provide some insight and help families prepare for some of the challenges that their children may come across as they begin the new school year.
As many of us are aware, bullying involves intentional and repeated aggressive behaviors towards another individual from one person or a group of people. Acts of bullying can be either physical or verbal, and can happen in-person or online (cyberbullying). Bullying happens in children and teens who abuse their power differences over some of their peers, as those kids who engage in bullying do it because they are stronger physically and have a higher social status compared to others. Bullying can be extremely harmful towards children and adolescents because it can negatively impact them physically and emotionally, which can then lead to the development of mental health issues over time if the issue is not addressed.
Some common displays of bullying are yelling, kicking, pushing, punching, threatening, name-calling, spreading rumors, harassing, intimidating, embarrassing, and excluding others. When bullying happens online, it usually involves posting and sharing sensitive or personal information for the purpose of hurting someone. No matter in what ways the bullying is being done; all forms of bullying is harmful and can cause many problems for children and teens. So how can you tell if your child might be a victim of bullying? Some of the most noticeable signs may be cuts, bruises, scratches, marks, or unexplained physical injuries on your children. Some other signs are that your child may start to display or express fear of going to school, avoiding certain situations and interactions with their peers, and their academic performance may start to decline. If your child has sudden changes in peers who they hang around with, or they are struggling to make friends at school; this could also be an indicator that bullying may be going on. However, some of the more serious signs of bullying are if your child starts to engage in self-harm, has a low self-esteem, has trouble sleeping or going to bed at night, having nightmares, and frequently expresses that they do not like school or maybe avoids certain conversations about school and peers. Many of these signs may be accompanied with feelings sadness or anger, along with frequent displays of tears. When it comes to social media, this one is usually a bit more difficult to tell, but if you notice your child is constantly on social media or worried about things that are posted and shared amongst their peers, then this could be an indicator that cyberbullying may be going on. It is important to notice these signs in your children and adolescents because bullying can increase their chances for the development of anxiety, depression, substance use, trauma, and suicidal tendencies.
Bullying is a common issue when it comes to children and their interaction with peers; however, the good thing is that it can be stopped or even prevented. Some ways that you can help your children address the issue of bullying are by listening and acknowledging their negative feelings, and making sure to offer your love, care, and support to them. Reminding your children that you are available to them for whenever they need to talk about their issues about school and peers, will allow them to feel safe and comfortable around you which is something very important, especially since they may not be feeling safe or comfortable around others at school. Another way is to encourage your child to walk away, ignore, and spend time with the close friends, as sometimes “giving in” or acknowledging the things the bullies say or do will give them more power and can encourage them to continue their negative behaviors. Other ways to help your child who may be a victim of bullying, is to encourage them to reach out to adults at their school for help, or maybe even reaching out to a parent, teacher, principle, counselor, or other school staff members yourself, in order to warn the school of the situation and see how this issue can be resolved. Some other helpful methods are making sure to surround your children around positive influences, such as keeping them engaged in clubs or activities they enjoy, surrounding them around the people who love and care about them, praising and reminding them how strong they are, and having them see a counselor who can help them navigate this issue before it causes mental health issues for them down the line.
Overall, bullying is a serious issue and can be devastating towards the health of children and adolescents. Before the school year begins, it may not be a bad idea just to have a conversation with your children about bullying and discuss with them things they can do if they ever start to experience bullying themselves. Preparing your children for the start of the new school year is a great way to increase the chances that positive outcomes will occur. If your child may be struggling with bullying, do not be afraid to be there for them and offer your support. However, if helping your child with the issue of bullying is something that you may be struggling with, then do not be afraid to reach out to their school or maybe even seek help elsewhere, as getting your child the help that they need can help prevent the development of mental health issues for them moving forward. Lastly, if you notice your child is the one who is doing the bullying; please have conversations with them on how this can be harmful towards others and bring to their awareness the issues it can cause for them. Addressing negative behaviors in our children and showing them what is right or wrong, teaches them how to properly interact with their peers so that they can develop healthier relationships as the school year goes on. If your child is having issues with peers and struggling with bullying, please feel free to reach out to Inner Courage Counseling to set up an appointment with me, so that we can address this issue and see how we can help your child feel better about themselves throughout the school year. I want to thank everyone for taking the time to read my blog and wish students, parents, and teachers a positive and happy start to the new school year!