Thursday, September 30, 2010

Bullying...Is It More Than Sticks and Stones?

Bullying...Is It More Than Sticks and Stones?
a guest post by Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC

Bullying is thought of as being an ordinary passage of growing up. We all remember being pelted with hurtful words. Some kids remember being beaten up on the playground. It was seldom taken seriously. When we hear the word "bully" we continue to think of it as not a big deal. However, bullying has changed. It is more than words or getting teased on the playground. It is inescapable harassment, physical assault, verbal abuse, and a constant barrage of cyber attacks that leave kids feeling defeated, fearful, and alone. 

According to Maureen Hackett, a mental health child advocate, youth are at fragile stages in their development of identity and self esteem. Their relationships with peers are an integral part of how they see themselves. The young victims look to their parents, teachers and other adults in their life for validation, appreciation and protection. When caretakers don't take bullying seriously or fail to help, the children are hurt further, intensifying the actual bullying experience.

What makes bullying particularly insidious is the lack of escape for children. Previously, youngsters were able to escape to their homes. Now the onslaught of cyber bullying continues even in a child's own room, behind closed doors.

What can we do to help with this crisis that happens every day, everywhere, to many children?

Warning signs your child is being bullied: 
1. She comes home with torn, damaged, or missing pieces of clothing, books, or other belongings.
2. She has unexplained cuts, bruises, and scratches.
3. She complains about not having friends.
4. She seems afraid of going to school, walking to and from school, riding the school bus, or taking part in organized activities with peers (such as clubs).
5. She has no interest in school or her grades. She begins to struggle with school.
6. She is weepy, sad, moody, or depressed when she comes home from school.
7. She complains frequently of headaches, stomachaches, or other physical ailments.
8. She experiences a loss of appetite or she may begin gaining weight.
9. She appears anxious and suffers from low self-esteem.
The best advice I can give parents regarding helping their children is the most important one: take it seriously. Do not minimize it; write everything down.

More tips for parents with children who are being bullied:
1. You need a plan and you need to make an appointment with your child's teacher. Share your plan with the teacher and make sure that it includes both school and home.
2. Invite your child to talk with a private or school counselor. Many counselors have ideas of how best to intervene using other resources. If your child has an out-of-school private counselor, encourage collaboration between the counselor and school teacher.
3. Limit your child's computer time. If your child has a cell phone, be aware of how much texting is taking place. Have her share threats she is receiving with you. Make sure you have a copy of these threats in case you need legal help.
4. If there is no improvement within a week, it is time to go to the principal (if the abuse is happening at school) or other person in charge.

Tips if you are the parent of a bully: 
1. Your child needs counseling and perhaps a professional assessment from a mental health professional. (Your whole family may be encouraged to attend). Bully behavior is learned and suggests that there may be a "bully mentor" in your home.
2. Make a doctor's appointment for your child. Sometimes children act out with impulsive and angry behaviors when there is something wrong with them medically (a hormone imbalance, for example).
3. Limit your child's ability to use the Internet and text. Set firmer limits at home.
4. Violence with your child does not stop the behavior. Indeed, it may make the bullying even more intense. Overprotecting your child and telling yourself that it is normal child behavior doesn't work either. There is nothing normal about hurting another child. You need to act and you need to do it now.

Behind every bully who is terrorizing another child, there is a parent who has ignored the bully's behaviors and decided that it will go away on its own. Bullying does not go away. It usually gets worse, and intervention on both the parent's behalf (the parents of the bully and the parents of the child being bullied) works best.

Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC, is a licensed psychotherapist and co-author with Janine J. Sherman, of Start Talking: A Girl's Guide for You and Your Mom About Health, Sex or Whatever. Read more about the book at and more about Rapini at
Start Talking features succinct yet lively answers, sample conversations, and real life stories to help open the door to better mother/daughter communication. Rapini and Sherman have compiled more than 113 questions girls (and their moms) routinely ask - or should be asking - about health, sex, body image, and dating.


CSeppala September 30, 2010 at 10:32 AM  

Bullying - whether physical or a horrible thing and can easily affect a child's esteem and sense of worth for life. It should never be tolerated and parents should always work to solve the problem immediately. We were very impressed with one of our teachers when a bullying issue came the minute she heard there was a problem...she handled it quickly and firmly. That's how it should be.

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