Many of us can remember a time when someone bullied us at school and how awful and alone it made us feel. Learning how to navigate daily social conflicts independently is an important part of growing up, and overcoming painful playground experiences can make us more confident, kind and empathetic. But when bullying doesn’t stop or goes too far the consequences for children and their families can be devastating. How can you tell if your child is being bullied or is bullying others? How can you best support him/her? And how can we make Maine schools and social media networks safer for all children?
Bullying is a Big Deal in Maine
As parents, we want our children to be accepted and appreciated by their peers. We also want our children to learn how to stand up for themselves and for others. Like many parents, we think that if our kids were really struggling socially—or were singling out another child at school—that we would
know, and that we would know what to do about it. But would we?
Youth surveys tell us again and again that less than 40% of bullying incidents at school or on social media are reported to an adult. Kids and teens who are being bullied are often too scared, depressed or embarrassed to tell someone, or are actively pressured by peers to keep quiet. The more frequent and widespread the bullying the less likely the victim is to tell. And the longer bullying goes on, the more long-term damage it will do. Children and teens who are systematically bullied in their school experience higher rates of anxiety, depression, drug and alcohol use, eating disorders, anger and suicide. Children who bully can end up in court.
As parents and members of caring communities, we all must stop bullying whenever we see it and support all the kids involved.
Bullying and cyberbullying does happen in and around Maine schools. In fact, one 2015 study of the 43 states showed that Maine had the highest rate of cyberbullying in the country with approximately a quarter of all high school students reoporitng that they were bullied in some way online. Cyberbullying is particularly challenging for schools to combat because it takes place off school grounds by email or text or on social networks parents and teachers may not have access to or authority over. To help educators and parents protect kids from bullying, Maine lawmakers passed An Act to Prevent Cyberbullying in Schools in 2012 and followed the law with a Model Policy for Bullying and Cyberbullying. This legislation is designed to make sure that all Maine students learn in safe, secure and peaceful environments, on campus and online.
We all need to watch for the signs of bullying and be ready to stop it. According to StopBullying.gov, kids who are being bullied may have:
- Unexplainable injuries
- Lost or destroyed clothing, books, electronics, or jewelry
- Frequent headaches or stomach aches, feeling sick or faking illness
- Changes in eating habits, like suddenly skipping meals or binge eating. Kids may come home from school hungry because they did not eat lunch.
- Difficulty sleeping or frequent nightmares
- Declining grades, loss of interest in schoolwork, or not wanting to go to school
- Sudden loss of friends or avoidance of social situations
- Feelings of helplessness or decreased self esteem
- Self-destructive behaviors such as running away from home, harming themselves, or talking about suicide
Not all children who are bullied will show these signs. Be aware of changes in your child’s behavior, and if you suspect or are told that they are being hurt or harmed, you need to take it seriously, document it thoroughly and talk to your child’s school immediately.
StompOutBullying.org, a great organization dedicated to fighting bullying, has an informative, step-by-step guide for parents whose child is being bullied and wonderful resources for kids who are being bullied. The Maine government’s website also has a Bullying Prevention Resource Guide with links to helpful resources for parents and for kids.
Kids who are bullying others may:
- Get into physical or verbal fights
- Have friends who bully others
- Are increasingly aggressive
- Get sent to the principal’s office or to detention frequently
- Have unexplained extra money or new belongings
- Blame others for their problems
- Don’t accept responsibility for their actions
- Are competitive and worry about their reputation or popularity
It can be very hard to acknowledge that your child is not treating other children well. If you are told by other parents or by your child’s school that your child is bullying, take it seriously, even if it doesn’t seem like a big deal to you. Let your child know that you love them no matter what but that this behavior needs to change.
StompOutBullying.org has a guide for parents of children suspected of bullying and for kids who have bullied others. “Understanding Why Kids Bully” is good place to start. Children act aggressively to others may have difficulties at home or they may be being bullied themselves. Changing bullying behavior requires being compassionate to everyone involved.
What can parents do to prevent and stop bullying?
Our children are always watching us. The behavior we want to see in them is the behavior they need to see from us. How do we react when we’re cut off in traffic? When we disagree with someone online? When we are having a conflict in our family or at work? Do our children hear us mock the way other people speak or dress?
If we keep our interactions with others kind and respectful, set clear boundaries on how and when our children use their computers and their cell phones, stop bullying whenever we see it right when we see it and take allegations of bullying seriously, we will be doing our part to prevent bullying and cyberbullying in Maine.