GS Thandi, MSW RSW
Most bullying in childhood and adolescence occurs in two forms. One is the more traditional form of bullying: being tormented by classmates at school. The other is a form of bullying that is becoming as common – or perhaps even more common – amongst children and teenagers: cyberbullying.
In the more traditional form of bullying, the bullies are generally known to the person being bullied. These bullies may act physically aggressively towards the victim, or will taunt, tease or intimidate the victim. Sometimes there are only a few bullies who are actively bullying a victim – while many others may not participate but will stand by silently or maybe laugh along with the bullies; they may not realize it, but they too are part of the problem if they aren’t doing something about it. Cyberbullying is done with a computer and over the internet. Cyberbullies may post comments or pictures that are intended to ruin someone else’s reputation. As it’s done online, cyberbullies may or may not even be in the same city as their victims (they may even be in another country). These kinds of bullies are often the cruelest, as they actively prey upon victims they don’t know because they figure they can’t be identified.
Children who are bullied may end up being socially withdrawn, have lowered self-esteem, are anxious, are less able or willing to express themselves, are more likely to get depressed, and as we have seen in same tragic instances, may commit suicide because of the abuse they have suffered through. Children who are bullied may also not want to go to school, and will often make up excuses (such as being sick) to avoid going. They may also cry frequently and often sleep poorly.
Given the increasing use of internet to communicate, it may be a good time to sit down and talk to your children about bullying and cyberbullying. Let them know that you love them and that if they are ever having any difficulties with others at school or online that they can always talk to you about it. You can also go on a website such as kidshelpphone.ca or stopabully.ca and read along with your children the tips they provide on dealing with bullies and cyberbullies.
As for bulling at schools, you may believe that the schools are prepared to address any issues that arise, but that is not always the case. Teachers can’t be everywhere at all times, and bullies are usually very good at bullying victims when no teacher is looking. Also let your children know that they should tell you – as well as a teacher – if they are being bullied, or know of anyone else that is being bullied. You should also go and talk to the teacher and school principal. Remember to stay calm – if you’re getting angry then you are going to come off as being a bully yourself.
One may think that the easiest way to avoid cyberbullying is to take the computer away –but technology that can get us on the internet is everywhere – so children and teens will always find a way to logon. If your child is being cyberbullied, talk to them about taking steps to block the bullies from communicating with them. Let them know that by reacting to bullies and cyberbullies, they are only just feeding into that behaviour. You may also want to alert the authorities, as these cyberbullies may be victimizing others as well, and need to be stopped and face the consequences of their actions. Additionally, when your children are at home, make sure you are monitoring their internet usage. You don’t have to ‘snoop’ to do this, just peek in every once in a while to make sure everything is okay. The internet can be a great resource for information and education, but it can also be harmful, and an involved, caring parent should always know what their children are doing online.
It’s not only victims of bullies and cyberbullies who are unhappy – in many instances the bullies and cyberbullies themselves are unhappy and come from unhappy homes. Many children that bully have learned such behaviour from seeing how their parents behave. So make sure you are a good role model for them. Just as you don’t want your child to be bullied, no doubt you don’t want your child to be a bully or cyberbully either.
One of the best ways to prevent bullies and cyberbullies is by having strong, supportive families. The stronger your attachment is to your children and the more open the communication is with them, the greater the chance they will turn to you when struggling. Your children and you together can stop bullies and cyberbullies.