Since 2006, October has been recognized as National Bullying Prevention Month by Pacer’s National Bullying Prevention Center. While bullying is often considered a normal, inevitable experience that most children have to deal with, it’s actually a devastating part of our culture that can lead to the lifetime consequences of low self-esteem, mental health conditions, and even suicide. This October, you can participate in National Bullying Prevention Month by taking specific actions that start with becoming educated. Read on for the information you need about bullying and what you can do about it.
What Constitutes Bullying?
Stopbullying.gov defines bullying as “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.”
One of the keys is that there is a real or perceived power imbalance. This means that even though a bully might be the same size and age as the person being bullied, they might be perceived as more popular, stronger, or otherwise more powerful than the victim. If two socially equal peers have an argument or even one physical fight, it’s not bullying. If a teenager is physically fighting or verbally harassing a younger child, it is.
Bullying can include the following actions:
- physical attacks
- verbal attacks
There might be one ringleader performing any of these actions or there might be many people participating. Many times, those not directly involved in the bullying don’t say anything about it, allowing the bully to continue without social consequences.
What About Cyberbullying?
The Internet provides many excellent experiences for children and teens, but it also provides a way for individuals who would not bully someone in person to hide behind a screen while harassing or spreading rumors about someone else. Cyberbullying is the name for this behavior. It’s often less obvious than traditional bullying.
Cyberbullying can include the following actions:
- cruel posts on social media
- impersonating the victim
- digital distribution of photos or videos meant to humiliate someone else
- harassing texts or emails
Because cyberbullying is not limited to school and can take place literally 24 hours per day, it can spiral out of control rapidly. It’s also not as easy for adults to catch this type of behavior because many kids and teens will delete the evidence or otherwise hide it.
What Are the Consequences of Bullying?
Bullying can have consequences that last far longer than the bullying itself. Teens who are bullied are more likely to develop anxiety (including social anxiety), depression, and other mental health disorders that are related to stress. This can impact their lives for years, decades, or even a lifetime. Mental health issues can cause a person to have trouble getting a job or having meaningful relationships well into adulthood.
In rare cases, bullying can even lead to suicide. Suicide is a leading cause of death among young people, and over 14 percent of high school students have considered it, with roughly half of those attempting it. Those who are bullied are many times more likely to consider, attempt, or complete suicide than those who are not. These statistics include people who are physically, emotionally, and cyber-bullied.
Bullying can also lead to retaliation violence; while it’s rare, several school shootings have been attributed to a bullying victim trying to get revenge.
What Are the Signs That Someone Is Being Bullied?
If a teenager is being bullied, it’s likely that they’ll try to hide it. They might not want to admit weakness and they might try to tell themselves that it’s “no big deal.” They also might be embarrassed and unwilling to ask an adult for help. For these reasons, it’s important for parents to be able to recognize the signs of bullying. National Bullying Prevention Month is a great time for parents to learn the signs of bullying, which include the following:
- Injuries that can’t be explained (or lots of injuries that have vague explanations).
- Non-specific illnesses that keep them home from school. These might include stomachaches, headaches, or just “not feeling well.”
- Changes when it comes to eating or sleeping. Your teen might be too stressed to eat or, conversely, they might try to cover their pain with too much food. They might sleep too much or not enough, much more or less than what is normal for them.
- Declining grades and skipping school.
- A sudden disinterest in using their cellphone or computer, particularly if they’ve been quite active on social media or with phone use previously.
- Isolation from friends or a lack of friends.
- Symptoms that they might be depressed or thinking about suicide. These can include lethargy, frequent crying or sadness, excessive anger, obsession with death, or procuring a weapon.
Keep your eye out for these signs that a loved one might be the victim of a bully.
How Can I Help a Person Who Is Being Bullied?
One way you can support National Bullying Prevention Month is to help someone who is being bullied. If you suspect or know that your teen is being bullied, here’s what you should do:
- Take whatever steps are necessary to keep him or her safe.
- Let them know that you support them and that the bullying is not their fault.
- Whether or not it’s taking place at school, approach the school’s administration. Many districts take a hard line against bullying even if it takes place off of school grounds or via the Internet.
- You can also contact the local police, because in many cases, bullying, including cyberbullying, is a criminal matter.
In some cases, your teen might want to switch to a new school, homeschool, or begin an online school. Consider all options; his or her mental health is more important than which school they go to. Also, keep in mind that stopping bullying is an experience that will stick with your teen. Adults do not put up with harassment or criminal activity in the workplace, so there’s no reason to expect that your teen should have to.
Encourage other teens to take a stand against bullying when and if they see it. Shutting down bullying can often be done with a few words when it’s in its early stages. When a bully knows that their peers are rejecting their behavior, they’ll often stop. Early intervention for the bullies themselves can also nip the problem in the bud. Many times, bullies are dealing with depression, anxiety, social issues, abuse, and other serious problems.
Take a Stand This National Bullying Prevention Month
Take a stand against bullying this October during National Bullying Prevention Month. Find out how your teen’s school handles bullying and talk to your teen and his or her friends about what bullying is and how they should handle it if they see it. It’s time to put this practice to rest and to change the way that children and teens feel about going to school and relating to one another.