More than one out of every four children ages 12 to 18 experience some kind of bullying, according to the National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice Statistics. The highest numbers of students are made fun of, called names or insulted, or are made the subject of rumors.
“Bullying occurs at school, usually in the hallways, bathrooms, locker rooms and the cafeteria, but cyberbullying is just as serious and can affect kids 24/7,” said Jenita Lyons, manager of health and wellness with the Children’s Hospital Foundation Office of Child Advocacy at children’s hospital. “Asking your child open-ended questions and prompting them to describe their day and relationships with kids at school can help identify problems.”
Cyberbullying by itself is associated with depression in teens, according to a study reported in the JAMA Pediatrics journal. So it’s important to stay in touch with what your child is doing online. But traditional bullying can also have lasting effects, leading to depression and anxiety, health issues and decreased performance in school.
Many schools have taken a strong stance on bullying, but it can still affect your child at home. As a parent, there are some steps you can take.
• Talk about bullying with your kids, and share your experiences. If one of your kids opens up about being bullied, praise him or her for being brave enough to discuss it, and offer your unconditional support.
• Remove the bait. If it’s lunch money or gadgets that the school bully is after, you can help neutralize the situation by encouraging your child to pack a lunch or go to school gadget-free.
• Buddy up for safety. Two or more friends standing at their lockers are less likely to be picked on than a child who is alone. Remind your child to use the buddy system when on the school bus, in the bathroom or wherever bullies may lurk.
• Keep calm and carry on. If a bully strikes, a kid’s best defense may be to remain calm, ignore hurtful remarks, tell the bully to stop and simply walk away. Bullies thrive on hurting others. A child who isn’t easily ruffled has a better chance of staying off a bully’s radar.
• Don’t try to fight the battle yourself. Sometimes talking to a bully’s parents can be constructive, but it’s generally best to do so in a setting where a school official, such as a counselor, can mediate. Consult with the school to learn its policies and how staff and teachers can address the situation.
• Talk with your kids about cyberbullying and other online issues regularly, letting them know that you want them to be safe when using the internet.
• Know what your kids are doing online: What sites do they visit? What are their online activities? Ask where they’re going, what they’re doing and who they’re doing it with.
• Let your kids know that it is your job to review their online communications if you think there is reason for concern. You can use parental control filtering software or monitoring programs, but do not rely solely on these tools.
• Have a sense of what and who they text. Try out the devices they use.
• Ask for their passwords, but tell them you’ll only use them in case of emergency or if you tell them first.
• Ask to “friend” or “follow” your kids on social media sites, or ask another trusted adult to do so.
• Encourage your kids to tell you immediately if they, or someone they know, is being cyberbullied. Explain that you will not take away their computers or cell phones if they confide in you about a problem.
• Teach your children about proper use of technology: Who do they want to see the information and pictures they post? Can what they post cause harm or embarrassment?