October 1st marked the beginning of Bullying Prevention Awareness Month (amongst a whole bunch of other awareness months, but we’ll get to that later). Each year millions of children and youth experience the humiliation and devastating effects of bullying. Bullying damages the physical, social, and emotional well-being of its victims. It also hurts the children who bully, as well as those who watch it happen. In fact, bullying creates a climate of fear, callousness, and disrespect for everyone involved. SAMHSA is committed to reducing the impact of bullying and we will take this month to share information about bullying and its impact, and how everyone can and should play a part in taking action against bullying.
Bullying begins in the preschool years, peaks in early adolescence, and continues, but with less frequency, into the high school years. But bullying does NOT have to be a part of growing up.
Bullying is a form of emotional or physical abuse that has three defining characteristics:
- Deliberate – the child that bullies’ intention is to hurt someone
- Repeated—the child that bullies often targets the same victim again and again
- Power Imbalanced—the child that bullies chooses victims he or she perceives as vulnerable
Bullying occurs in many different forms, with varying levels of severity. It may involve:
- Physical Bullying—poking, pushing, hitting, kicking, beating up
- Verbal Bullying—yelling, teasing, name-calling, insulting, threatening to harm
- Relational Bullying—ignoring, excluding, spreading rumors, telling lies, getting others to hurt someone
A culture of silence often surrounds bullying. Many children who are bullied never tell anyone.
Most bullying is not reported because children …
- Don’t recognize it as bullying
- Are embarrassed
- Don’t want to appear weak
- Believe they deserve it
- Want to belong
- Fear retaliation
- Don’t know how to talk about it
- Don’t have a trusted adult to confide in
- Think adults won’t understand
- Think nothing can be done about it
Just because you don’t see it, and children don’t talk about it, doesn’t mean bullying isn’t happening. Even when children fail to report bullying, they often show warning signs.
What are some warning signs of bullying?
- Unexplained damage or loss of clothing and other personal items
- Evidence of physical abuse, such as bruises and scratches
- Loss of friends; changes in friends
- Reluctance to participate in activities with peers
- Loss of interest in favorite activities
- Unusually sad, moody, anxious, lonely, or depressed
- Problems with eating, sleeping, bed-wetting
- Headaches, stomachaches, or other physical complaints
- Decline in school achievement
- Thoughts of suicide
Some children may withdraw, while others may get angry and seek revenge. Don’t assume the problem will go away on its own: Invite children to talk about what is bothering them. If you find out a child is being bullied, show support, help develop a response strategy, and follow up to make sure the bullying does not continue.
Recommendations and Strategies for Adults
If you don’t intervene, bullies, victims, and bystanders will continue to believe in the power of bullying, rather than the power of prevention. They will continue to let bullying happen. So, why don’t adults intervene more often? Sometimes, it’s because we don’t see it happen; we’re not sure what to look for. But often, it’s because we don’t know what to do or we’re afraid that our actions will somehow make matters worse*