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Bullying and Its Effects

Bullying is defined as the use of force, coercion or threat to abuse, dominate or intimidate someone else (Wikipedia). Normally, there is an imbalance of power, sometimes related to roles, gender or an individual being seen as more vulnerable than the bully. There are many ways that people can be bullied, ranging from physical violence and verbal abuse to cyberbullying. According to psychology today, approximately 25% of students in junior high and high school report being bullied by peers.

Bullies tend to be individuals who are looking for social acceptance, unbothered by anxiety and often hostile. Relationships with others, including family members are strained but the bullies see themselves in a very positive light. They choose their victims by singling out people who are submissive, have a smaller peer group and lack confidence.

Bullying can have short and long-term consequences for both the bully and the bullied child. For the victim, some of the short-term effects of being bullied are as follows:

  • Lower academic scores than peers

  • Sleep problems

  • Low self-esteem

  • Changes in appetite

  • Anxiety and depression

  • School avoidance

  • Symptoms such as headaches and stomach ache with no known cause

Without intervention to stop the bullying, the victim can have long-term effects. Some of these residual problems as a result of being bullied are:

  • Chronic depression and anxiety

  • Suicidal thoughts, plans and attempts

  • Low self-esteem

  • Substance abuse

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder

  • Difficulty establishing strong, healthy relationships

We often overlook the individual who is doing the bullying. They also suffer from the consequences of their actions. While it is difficult to feel sorry for the bully, it is important to recognize that people who engage in this behaviour do so for a reason. If no intervention is done, these individuals will continue to bully others. The short-term consequences of the bullies’ actions are:

  • Difficulty maintaining relationships

  • The risk of substance abuse

  • School suspensions and skipping school

  • Poor grades

Without intervention, these behaviours may continue into adulthood. The long term consequences of their actions are as follows:

  • Anti-social behaviour

  • At risk for continuing the pattern of abuse, only with a spouse or child

  • Unemployment

  • More likely to be uneducated

  • More likely to abuse substances

Parents can equip their children to make them more resilient and less likely to be the target of a bully. Establishing a trusting, open relationship with their children is important so parents can intervene quickly in the event of bullying. It is also important for parents to model a respectful compassionate relationship with others. Children model the behaviours they see at home. Parents can and should teach their children how to be respectful towards others and assertive so they can get their needs met and be able to stand up for themselves.

Socialization at an early age is a good way for children to learn acceptable and unacceptable behaviour with peers, as well as learn right from wrong. Teach your child how bullying occurs. Often, bullying will start with verbal harassment and depending on how the victim responds, it will either continue or the bully will find another victim. That said, you should also teach your child to intervene if they see another child being bullied. The best interventions are to

  1. Physically join the victim, turn from the bully and walk away – preferably towards an adult for help. Teaching children how to recognize when they are being bullied and to walk away from a bully is the first defence. They should question the bully and use phrases such as “Why would you say that” and “Why would you tell me … and hurt my feelings?” Children can also try using sentences that begin with “I want” and state exactly what they want to be changed. These can include sentences like “I want you to stop bullying me.” Then agree with the individual. Phrases relating to the verbal assault such as “Yes, I am … but I am good at it.” deter the bully from continuing the assault. If a victim answers the teasing with statements but doesn’t tease the bully back, research has shown that the teasing often stops. If your child is highly emotional, you might role-play at home so your child can learn to control their emotions, as well as rehearse a potential dialogue to use.

  2. The second defence is to establish a strong peer group, and for parents to foster those relationships. That peer group is the people who will have your children’s back should they become a victim of bullying and they will be the first ones to stand up for the victim. When your child is being bullied, it is important for the child to get other kids to join them by waving their hands and shouting that they need help. They should verbally confront the bully and then walk away. Not only does this deter a bully, but it also allows the victim to gather witnesses who can back them up.

If the child is at all worried about safety, it is important that they shout for a teacher or adult or dial 911 if needed.

There are plenty of resources available online and at the library for different types of bullying. Remember that there are long-term consequences for both victims and bullies and early intervention is important.


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