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Dealing with Bullying
Bullying takes many forms and is a deceptive and destructive experience to cope with. Equipping children and teens to recognise, expose and confront bullying is essential.
A bully is someone who gets pleasure from harming, intimidating, humiliating, exposing or persuading a vulnerable person repetitively. The bully wants to take away the target's power and make them sad, upset and powerless. Single or random acts of rejection or nastiness are not considered bullying, although they may also be harmful and do need to be addressed.
Bullies often congregate together to cause intentional harm to a victim and their combined force can be terrifying. The intimidation may be physical, social or psychological and it is sometimes difficult to detect because it is carried out in a covert manner. It leaves children, teens, and even adults, for that matter, feeling degraded, weak, afraid and helpless. It affects the target's behaviours, sometimes to the point that they don't want to go out into the world. The bully or bullies take on an all-powerful image in the target's mind, often because they threaten to cause further harm if the bullying is exposed.
Physical bullying could be hitting, pinching, biting, shoving, taking possessions or money away from the victim, or causing damage to their belongings. Social bullying includes name calling, deliberate ostracism, ignoring, taking away friends or spreading rumours. Psychological bullying is a form of mental abuse. This includes making things up to get the target into trouble or making threats or telling jokes that point out his or her physical flaws, weaknesses or differences in front of others. Passive aggressive tactics such as making comments that are perceived as positive but contain an underlying dig is a manipulative form of victimisation. Gas lighting is a specific form of mental abuse whereby the perpetrator tries to make the victim doubt their own sanity by setting them up to feel angry or upset and then manipulating them into believing that they have no reason to be emotional or that they are just over-sensitive.
Bullies may simply lack empathy or have been bullied themselves and are mimicking this behaviour. They may be suffering neglect; lacking meaningful, constructive attention or supervision; trying to achieve personal gain; seeking vengeance or attempting to impress their peers. Poor self-esteem may result in a need to appear more powerful than others.
The good news is that there are ways to counteract bullying. In terms of prevention, it stands to reason that children who develop a strong sense of empowerment early on gain the internal resources to buffer experiences of bullying. As adults, we are tempted to rush in and fix the upsetting situations our children are facing. However, equipping a child to successfully handle a bully independently, when possible, builds confidence and a sense of agency in him or her.
Our children need to know if they are bullied that they are not alone, nor are they to blame for what is happening to them. Sometimes all that is needed is to ignore the bully. One option is to walk away without showing a reaction, or even to laugh and agree with something a bully has teased him or her about. This removes the intimidator's power and he or she may lose interest when denied the satisfaction of hurting the other. Children can be taught to imagine a personal safety bubble around themselves that deflects the taunts of a bully, or to imagine him or her as a ridiculous, comic figure to lessen the perception that the bully is all-powerful.
Another way of dealing with a bully is to confront him or her directly. He or she will often stand down in the face of a confident response. There is also the "kill them with kindness" approach whereby the victim makes eye contact directly with the bully and shows him or her compassion.
If, after trying these approaches, a child or teen is still not coping with a bullying situation independently, help is needed. Children need to be encouraged that they have a right to feel safe and although they may feel afraid, going to a responsive parent, teacher or counsellor for support is nothing to be ashamed of.
In the case of online bullying such as receiving hurtful texts or emails or any other destructive messages on social media platforms, a child or teen should NOT RESPOND, immediately BLOCK all communication with the person and REPORT this to family or another responsive adult, as it can escalate very quickly. All evidence of the cyberbullying should be kept, to be referred to later. More underhand types of anonymous bullying are challenging to handle, and these messages are often particularly vicious as the perpetrator feels shielded by anonymity. Sometimes children or teens sign up to websites such as Qooh.me where people can send questions or messages without having a registered account. Hateful messages can be delivered which are very difficult to counteract, so signing up to these sites should be discouraged. "Cat-fishing" is another form of cyberbullying. In these instances, perpetrators will set up fake online accounts for a number of reasons, such as pretending to be romantically attracted to someone, but laughing behind their back with friends when the person responds; or as a way to ask for inappropriate images of someone by pretending to truly care for them, and then distributing them or using them as blackmail. Sometimes people even set up fake accounts to bully a "crush" so that they are in a position to "comfort" the "crush" once they feel hurt. Children and teens need to be wise to all of these tactics and be empowered to block and report them.
If your child is guilty of bullying, this may be hard to accept, but it is possible to identify what is driving the behaviour and to help meet his or her needs in a healthier way. It could mean providing more supervision, enforcing more discipline, providing opportunities to develop genuine self-esteem, allowing expression of anger in a non-violent way, teaching empathy or encouraging him or her to move out of social circles that promote bullying.
Bullying is a topic in Grade 4-7 Life skills and the resources on e-classroom can assist if you feel that your child is being bullied or if you know someone that is being bullied, or if your child is guilty of bullying.