Bullying in schools: What the research says
Every day in our schools and communities, children are teased, threatened, or tormented by bullies. The research says that 10-15% of students are bullied on a weekly basis. We tend to think of bullying as simply physical, but the most common type of bullying is verbal harassment, such as name calling and teasing. Bullying can be relational - excluding students from friendship groups, spreading rumours in person or on-line, or manipulating others to take sides. Bullying can also be sexual - involving inappropriate sexual touches and comments, making others look at adult materials, or asking intimate and personal questions. Because there are different levels of bullying, we also need a range of responses.
Kids being targeted can have difficulty learning in school and may be resistant to attending school. Such students tend to grow socially insecure and anxious with decreased self-esteem and increased rates of depression, even into adulthood. Bullying is also harmful to the bullies. The longer bullying lasts, the harder it is to change. If not challenged, students who are bullying may adopt this as the accepted way of relating to people. In one research program, students who were identified as bullies at 8 years old, were six times more likely to have a criminal conviction by age 24.
So what can you do to help if your child is being targeted? The first is simply being alert to possible bullying that may be occurring. Notice if your child has a good friendship network. Ask about how they are getting along with other students at school. Realise that bullying is more than just physical attacks and often needs adult intervention.
Coach your child in avoiding the bullies, where he or she can, and instead hang around with friends or in safe areas of the school. Speak to them about responding in ways different to becoming aggressive or simply being a victim and taking it. Teach them to stand up straight as bullies often target students who look vulnerable or different in some way. It is important to ask your child for their ideas here as well as they are closer to the situation and have an idea of what they are willing to do that might help. Some students choose to act indifferent, pretending the teasing does not affect them in any way. Others choose to return meanness with kindness or to ask adults for help. Some learn to become assertive, saying confidently words like, "Rack off!"
As a parent, you can help by making your home a welcoming place for your child's friends and encouraging involvement in positive after-school activities. Most importantly, speak to the appropriate person at your child's school. There are a range of interventions school staff can use.