By Kathy Hubbard
“I was in the third grade when the teacher pop quizzed us on spelling,” Paula, a woman now in her fifties, told me. “Half way into the test I asked the teacher if I could be excused to go to the restroom. She said that I had to finish my test first. I couldn’t wait. I wet my pants. And, all the kids laughed at me.”
“I expected those kids to tease me about it then, but, they continued all through high school. Too often girls would point at me and say, ‘You peed on the floor!’ and I’d have to say, “Yeah, but that was when I was eight! You know, I thought I’d gotten over it, but look at me remembering it all these years later.”
Statistics on DoSomething.org says that over 3.2 million students are victims of bullying each year and approximately 160,000 teens skip school every day because of it. 90 percent of 4th through 8th graders report being victims of bullying and one out of ten bullied students drop out of school.
They say that “physical bullying increases in elementary school, peaks in middle school and declines in high school. Verbal abuse, on the other hand, remains constant.”
The statistic that’s worrisome is that one in four teachers sees nothing wrong with bullying and will only intervene four percent of the time. Let’s hope that nationwide number isn’t reflected in our local schools.
In order, from the most to least, the incidents of bullying include name calling; teasing; spreading rumors or lies; pushing or shoving; hitting, slapping, or kicking; leaving out; threatening; stealing belongings; sexual comments or gestures, and maybe surprisingly at the low end is social media.
However, cyberbullying may be more prevalent than the statistics show. According to BullyingStatistics.org between ten and twenty percent of young people say they’ve experienced it regularly.
By definition, cyberbullying is the use of technology to harass, threaten, embarrass, or target another person. It can also involve impersonating the victim by posting photos or personal information with the intent to hurt him or her.
Only about 20 to 30 percent of all students who are bullied will notify adults. As parents, we’re obligated to look for the warning signs and to keep communication lines open with our children.
Although there may not be any warning signs that your child is being bullied, there are a few tell-tale things to look for including unexplained injuries; lost or destroyed items; frequent headaches or stomach aches and/or faking an illness to not go to school. You might see a change in your child’s appetite, not hungry at dinner or very hungry after school because they didn’t get to eat their lunch.
Other signs might be difficulty sleeping or frequent nightmares; declining grades or loss of interest in school; sudden loss of friends; 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.
You should also look for indications that your child is bullying others. Kids may be bullying if they get into physical or verbal fights; have friends that 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.
What to do? Make sure your child understands what bullying is and that it’s not acceptable to be on either end of the bully spectrum.
“Encourage kids to speak to a trusted adult if they are bullied or see others being bullied,” StopBullying.gov suggests “Talk about how to stand up to kids who bully. Give tips like using humor and saying ‘stop’ directly and confidently. Talk about what to do if those actions don’t work, like walking away.”
StopBullying.gov has information about digital safety that every parent should read. Suggestions like following your child’s social media accounts, checking the websites they use, setting limits and discussing appropriate behavior.
Listen to your children, know their friends, ask questions about school and teach your children about digital and good citizenship, respecting others beliefs and embracing differences.
Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.