Resources for Parents
The below is excerpted from Kalamazoo College’s website dedicated to creating Safe Learning environments for kids.
What is bullying?
Bullying can consist of any action that is used to hurt another child repeatedly and without cause (Olweus, 1993). This can be physical, verbal, or even emotional torment. Things that appear to an onlooker as playful teasing or horseplay could in fact be a ritual of bullying. For example, a child may lean against a doorpost with his or her arms folded. To the onlooker, it may look like a benign posture – however, there may be a victimized child who understands that this is the bully’s “shorthand” code of conveying the message: “Hand me your lunch as you walk by me, or else.”
Bullying may be expressed in many forms. Boys are generally targeted more than girls. Boys tend to use physical aggression when they bully by hitting, kicking, and fighting. Girls, on the other hand, more often use exclusionary techniques to bully-a form of aggression often referred to as relational aggression (Crick & Grotpeter, 1995). Girls often start rumors, form cliques to keep certain people out, and ignore other children in attempts to show dominance over another child. However, these are broad generalizations and boys and girls may perpetrate, as well as experience, both types of bullying. It is important to regard both forms of bullying as seriously as the other, as studies have shown that they are associated with the same negative outcomes (Tomada & Schneider, 1997).
How prevalent is bullying?
School bullying is a pervasive problem. Some studies suggest that approximately one out of every seven children in the United States has either been bullied or has initiated bullying upon other students (Olweus, 1993). This is a significantly higher number of students than in schools in UK, Europe, and Scandinavian countries that have focused more attention on the problem of bullying.
Who are the bully’s victims?
Many children who are victimized fit into one of two types: the passive victim, the inhibited child who is bullied because he or she is perceived as weak; and the provocative victim, the child that may appear to initiate negative interactions with others (Smith, Bowers, Binney, & Cowie, 1999). The passive victim is the kind of victim often stereotyped in the media, but it is important to note that many do not fit the characteristics that we have learned to associate with “victims.”
Provocative victims often elicit less compassion from others. Sometimes it appears that the provocative victim has “brought on” his or her own fate–but does any child deserve to be the target of repeated physical or verbal aggression? Why might so-called provocative victims actively participate in being the target of bullying: For example, are their provocative gestures simply a clumsy way of attempting to interact with others? One feels compassion for the inhibited child because he is reserved; a social misfortune in our society, but an aggressive child is given none of this.
It is important not to form stereotypic and narrow views of what “bullies” and “victims” look and act like. For more detailed information about the many different kinds of bullies and victims that have been identified, we recommend the Bully Beware website.
Who is Responsible for Bullying?
The dynamics of the bully/victim relationship need to be understood in a larger context (Pepler, Craig & O’Connell, 1999). It is not only the bully and the victim that is involved in a system of interaction: The bullying context includes multiple levels of the child’s social environment. The bully may enlist the help of “henchmen” (those who assist the bully, but often do not have the initiative or leadership to initiate bullying). Also, bystanders (whether actively encouraging the bullying act or passively standing by) play a role in maintaining the pattern of bullying. Even the students who habitually flee the site of a bullying act play a role in maintaining the bully/victim interaction. School staff who do not intervene, do not view acts of bullying seriously, do not notice which children are repeatedly targeted by others, or do not frequent remote areas of the playground and school building (where bullying often occurs) may unknowingly play a role in maintaining bullying.
Just as the bully/victim interaction is maintained and stabilized by many levels of the social environment, so too can those around the bully and victim effect change. For example, peer counseling has been shown to be an effective intervention strategy for many children (Cowie & Sharp, 1996). Those closest to the bully and victim most likely have the greatest potential to change the status quo.
So…what can PARENTS do to help?
As a parent, be aware of whether your school has a bullying policy and whether the school staff take a united stand against bullying. If there is no bullying policy, and you suspect that your child is being victimized by peers, take an active role in setting up a policy for bullying in your school system and at the particular school your child attends. Try your best to work in harmony with principals, teachers and other school staff and not in opposition to them. Their perspectives may be different as their roles towards your child are different from yours: But in the end, you are waging a battle on which you are all on the same side. Listening to what principles, teachers and other school staff have to say based on their experience is as important as making your voice heard.
- If a problem is brought up, do talk to your child-but mainly LISTEN.
- Listen and ask your child questions about what he or she has just said, with the goal of getting an “insider’s perspective of your child’s playground.
- Try to understand the dynamics of your child’s school playground, classroom and school bus through your child’s eyes.
- In handling the situation, it is important not to focus only on the one or two students that are directly involved, but on the playground and school as a whole.
- Studies have shown that in order to break down the stability of peer bullying you must initiate change on many levels: Not only in teaching the bullied child how to assert himself or herself and to deflect attacks, but also to raise awareness about the problem of bullying and encourage the school community at large to take a united stance against bullying.
Be sure to let the child know that change may not come immediately. When a victim or bully learns new ways of interacting with peers, he or she may find others to be rather resistant to changing their old attitudes and expectations. Because of reputation bias, peers, teachers and others may often notice and remember behaviors that appear to be congruent to what they expect from the child (based on prior experience) while not seeing or remembering behaviors that go against the child’s reputation. This can be very frustrating to a bully who may be trying to reform his or her old ways: The child may find that when he or she does something “nice,” others may not notice or may imbue the act with negative intentions. However, when the child misbehaves others may appear to scold the child and point out how he or she “always” engages in this negative behavior.
This can make the transition very hard for all sides involved. It is very important to emphasize that the child must be consistent, persistent… and patient.