Health: Bullying a continuing childhood problem

By Debbie Howes Fleming Published:

The topic of childhood bullying seems to be in the news constantly. Today’s bullying is complex and it is difficult to define. The playground bully is still out there, but now the Internet and social marketing sources are also in use by bullies.

According to stopthebullying.gov, bullying is defined 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. Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.”

Bullying can occur anywhere, anytime and to any child. There is no one specific factor that puts a child at greater risk for bullying or being bullied, although some groups of children may be more at risk depending on the climate of tolerance. These groups include youth with disabilities, socially isolated youth, gay, lesbian and bisexual youth.

New electronic technology has created an additional form of bullying called cyberbulling. It is bullying using devices and equipment such as cell phones and computers to send destructive and embarrassing messages, rumors and pictures. Unlike bullying, cyberbullying can occur 24 hours a day, seven days a week when a child is alone. These posts may be sent anonymously and to large audiences. Often it may be impossible to trace the source.

Since only 33 percent of the children involved in bullying reported it to an adult, it becomes essential to know and recognize the symptoms of bullying. A child being bullied may often have unexplainable injuries such as bruises, lost or destroyed personal property, feeling sick or faking illnesses and changes in eating habits. Not wanting to go to school or declining grades, loss of friends and difficulty sleeping may all be signs of being bullied.

Children who are victims of cyberbullying are likely to be physically bullied as well. They are at greater risk for engaging in destructive behaviors such as using alcohol and drugs, skipping and are unwilling to attend school. Children find it difficult to talk to adults about the problem no matter what type of bullying they experience. They fear retaliation from the bully, loss of friendships and isolation.

If your child is getting into fights, is choosing friends who bully others, has unexplained extra money or new found items of clothing or electronics, your child may be the one bullying others. Unfortunately, the aggression will continue to escalate leading to increasing behavior problems in and out of school.

Preventing bullying starts in very early childhood. Parents and other adults involved in a child’s life can provide positive role models for behaviors. Adults should encourage children to confide in them if they are being treated in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable or afraid.

Encourage them to report it if they have seen other children being bullied. When a child is on the Internet, ask for the same type of information you would want if she where going to visit friends. Check the sites they visit on the Internet and who is communicating with them.

Bullying and cyperbullying are difficult and complex problems that children and adults must confront and stop. Fortunately there are many resources, including those on the Internet, to help them do so, including stopthebullying.gov and kidshealth.org.

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