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Would You Know if Your Child Were Being Bullied? 4 Tips to Keep Them From Becoming a Victim

The 21st Century Problem in Schools: Bullying, and How to Keep Your Kid From Being a Victim

Children bullying other children has been an issue since there were children, and though it has often been downplayed as "part of growing up," it has always had potentially serious implications from an emotional perspective.

But these days, due to a host of factors such as our society's glorification of celebrity and being popular, violence in mass media, and easy access to deadly weapons, the implications can be especially risky. At the extreme, in many of the school shootings over the last decade, the perpetrators were withdrawn students who had a history of being bullied. Though still largely ignored or discounted as a minor issue, bullying is a very serious - and growing - problem.

According to a new study of two schools by UCLA researchers, 47 percent of sixth graders in one school and 46 percent in the other said they'd been bullied at least once during a five-day period.

Bullying can take on many forms-name calling, teasing, spreading rumors, physical aggression-and the end result can be tragic, both for the victim and the bully. After being teased, even if it's "just joking around," kids are seriously affected, and verbal abuse happens twice as often as physical abuse, according to the UCLA study that was published in the March/April issue of the journal Child Development.

"The students who were beat up and those who were called names were equally bothered. Kids reported feeling humiliated, anxious or disliking school on days when they reported incidents, which shows there is no such thing as 'harmless' name-calling or an 'innocent' punch," said Jaana Juvonen, UCLA professor of psychology and co-author of the study.

When bullying gets bad enough, kids can end up missing school or worse. Back in 2002, one 12-year-old Connecticut boy who had missed 44 days of school as a result of bullying ending up committing suicide by hanging himself. Though suicide and school shootings demonstrate extremes of what can happen if a child is bullied, there are other lasting impacts that can occur.

Says Alice Pope, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychologyat St. John's University, the effects of bullying can last a lifetime and include lowered self-esteem, vulnerability to depression, problems with sexual relationships and, as mentioned above, suicide.

Victims of bullies are also more likely to report physical symptoms like headaches, stomachaches and colds than kids who aren't bullied.

The bully, too, is more likely to have problems later in life, she says, ranging from lowered school attendance and performance to an increased likelihood of committing criminal acts. Bullies, like victims, also have a greater risk of depression and suicide.

So just how widespread is bullying?

"Bullying is a problem that large numbers of kids confront on a daily basis at school; it's not just an issue for the few unfortunate ones," said Juvonen. And the cycle of bullying is similar to that of a yo-yo dieter: the more a child is bullied, the more depressed, lonely and anxious they feel. This makes them want to avoid school, so their grades and social ties break down, while meanwhile making them more psychologically vulnerable to being bullied.

Children appear most likely to be bullied (or at least are most affected by bullying) between the ages of 11 and 13. Fortunately, as children get older, the likelihood of being bullied goes down.

Is Your Child Being Bullied?

A child who's bullied often exhibits some of these warning signs, says the National Mental Health Information Center:

* Becomes socially withdrawn or has poor social skills.

* Has few or no friends.

* Feels sad, alone, rejected, not liked, picked on or persecuted.

* Often complains of feeling sick.

* Doesn't want to go to school or skips school.

* Brings home damaged possessions or "loses" possessions often.

* Cries easily, talks of running away or suicide.

* Has changes in appetite and sleeping patterns.

* Threatens violence to self and others.

* Displays "victim" body language such as hung head or shoulders, avoiding eye contact.

* Tries to take "protection" to school (stick, knife, etc.).

4 Ways to Help Your Child From Becoming Bullied

Kids who have low self-esteem, few friends or lack social skills are often the targets of bullies, simply because they're less likely to fight back or pose a real challenge to the bully. The National Mental Health Information Center recommends that parents take the following four steps to prevent their kids from becoming a victim to a bully:

1. Instill self-confidence in your child.

2. Help your child establish good social skills.

3. Teach your child to speak out for him or herself.

4. Teach your child to seek help if harassed, from you and other caring adults.

What to do if Your Child is Being Bullied

Here are seven simple steps to take if you suspect your child is being bullied (see the box above for signs your child may be at risk), from the National Mental Health Information Center:

1. Make sure your child knows being bullied is not his or her fault.

2. Let your child know that he or she does not have to face being bullied alone.

3. Discuss ways of responding to bullies.

4. Teach your child to be assertive.

5. Tell your child not to react, but to ignore the bully, walk away and get help if pursued.

6. Tell your child to report bullying immediately to a trusted adult.

7. Contact the school/teacher.

For those of you interested in keeping your little one from becoming a bully, don't miss the article below, "9 Key Reasons for You and Your Family to Kill Your Television." It explains how 4-year-olds who watch a lot of TV are more likely to become bullies when they're older.

Science Daily April 11, 2005
Child Development. 2005 Mar-Apr;76(2):435-50
Bullies: More Than Sticks, Stones and Name Calling
Bullying Seen as Big School Problem
The National Mental Health Information Center
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