Bullying Part II: Why It Hurts, How Parents Can Help

(A version of this article first appeared in Kingston Neighbours Magazine, September, 2022.)

In last month’s article, Bullying Part I: Bullying Hurts Us All, we examined how bullying is defined and some potential responses in bullying situations. However, we also looked at signs of bullying because many do not speak out. 

Kids and adults alike suffer in silence for many reasons, including embarrassment and fear of retaliation. However, they also worry about the response they might get. Bullying makes everyone uncomfortable, and so many try to deny or minimize aggressive words and actions. Targets often hear belittling words from misguided friends, parents, teachers, co-workers and supervisors, including:

  •  It was just a joke! They’re just teasing.
  • Kids will be kids.
  •  You’re being too sensitive. 
  • You don’t want to be one of *those* people no one can talk to, right?

Impact of Bullying

However, bullying is NOT harmless, children do NOT outgrow it without help and it is NOT an inevitable part of group dynamics. According to Queen’s University PREVNet (Promoting Relationships & Eliminating Violence Network), Public Safety Canada and BullyingCanada, bullying can have detrimental short- and long-term effects for both targets and perpetrators, including:

Effects on Targets

  • Increased stress-related physical health problems: headaches/migraines, stomach pain, panic attacks and sleep issues
  • Increased school and work absenteeism
  • Higher risk of social isolation, depression, social anxiety, substance abuse, self-harm, violent behaviour and suicide

Effects on Perpetrators

  • Increased academic problems and delinquency
  • Recurring work issues, including unemployment
  • Higher risk of substance abuse, sexual harassment, dating aggression, gang involvement and criminal behaviour
  • Problematic relationships, including separation/divorce, alienation from kids and/or siblings and the potential to be bullied themselves

Early identification and effective intervention of bullying is essential for the development of healthy relationships in all settings: homes, schools, workplaces and the community.

Prevention & Intervention: What Parents Can Do

Last month’s article has a list of resources, and I highly recommend the PREVNet website to everyone trying to halt bullying; it is both evidence-based and comprehensive. Here are some guidelines for parents based on PREVNet’s recommendations:

  1. Start a conversation about bullying. Listen attentively. Acknowledge your child’s feelings.
  2. Take action by contacting school personnel, coaching or camp staff to inform them of any bullying. Monitor the situation and follow-up often until the bullying stops. PREVNet has an excellent list of questions to ask, including, “If I feel my child’s teacher/administration is not addressing the bullying problem effectively, where can I turn?”
  3. Coach your child on social skills to navigate peer conflict by teaching them how to be assertive, not aggressive. Role-play until your child feels confident.
  4. Build on your child’s strengths to regain self-esteem.
  5. Examine your own behaviours. Ensure you model using personal power in positive, not coercive, ways by demonstrating patience and respect for others. 
  6. If your child is engaging in aggressive behaviours towards others, including siblings, enforce limits and formative consequences that teach empathy and how to make amends. PREVNet has a list of suggestions to help children learn to use their power in positive, not destructive ways.

Bullying can leave painful memories that last a lifetime, but parents can help by supporting their children in a loving and proactive manner. I will also devote next month’s article to examine what schools and workplaces need to do to curb bullying in our society. Look for Bullying Part III: The Role of Schools And Workplaces in October, 2022.

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