Bullying continues to make headlines around the country. In particular, cyberbullying has become an increasingly common and serious issue largely due to the easy access, and in some cases the anonymity, of digital devices.
CHOC Children’s offers the following tips to help you start a conversation with your child around bullying, and guidelines to help you and your child combat bullying.
Dr. Heather Huszti, chief psychologist at CHOC, says one of the best ways to protect your children from bullying is to talk openly about it. “Have a discussion about why some kids might be bullies,” she says. “You can explain that most bullies have low self-esteem and that they bully other people to try to feel better about themselves.”
Dr. Huszti suggests asking your child open-ended questions such as, “Is there anything going on?” or “Is there anything I can help you with?” This approach usually works better than firing off a list of specific questions.
If you learn your child is being bullied, here are some additional steps you can take:
Inform your child’s school about the bullying.
Talk with the bully’s parents about the behavior.
Help your child build up his or her self-esteem. The better your child feels about herself, the less effect a bully will have on her overall well-being.
Be mindful of your child’s online activity.
Have a plan. Talk about what your child might do if he or she is bullied, including who to tell.
Pay close attention to signs from your child that may show something is wrong, such as acting withdrawn, sad or irritable, or changes in their sleep or appetite. Keep in mind however, that sometimes kids will not display any signs at all so it’s important to keep an open dialogue with your child.
One in five students age 12-18 in the U.S. have experienced bullying, according to the National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice. More than 70% of young people say they have seen bullying in their schools. Kids and teens who are bullied can experience physical and mental health issues, and problems at school.
CHOC Children’s teen advisers share their own experiences observing and dealing with bullying, and what they do to cope. CHOC experts also weigh in on what parents can do to support a child who is being bullied.
Talk openly about bullying
One of the best ways to protect your child from bullying is to talk openly about it, says Dr. Heather Huszti, CHOC’s chief psychologist.
“Have a discussion about why some kids might be bullies. You can explain that most bullies have low self-esteem and that they bully other people to try to feel better about themselves,” she says.
CHOC teen adviser Heather Bisset, age 14, has seen this play out firsthand.
“When someone bullies another person, it is often because they are insecure and do not know how to emotionally handle it,” she says. “A bully does and says things to make others feel hurt or down, and if you do not show a response, they will most likely leave you alone.”
Dr. Huszti also recommends parents ask open-ended questions of their children such as, “Is there anything going on at school?” or “Is there anything I can help you with?”
She adds that this approach usually works better than firing off a list of specific questions and can facilitate a bond between parent and child that will encourage them to open up to you when something is affecting them.
Find a trusted adult to talk to
CHOC teen adviser Zoe Borchard, age 15, knows the benefits of having someone to talk to when you have been bullied.
“At a high school football game, a girl that I don’t even know called me stupid along with a bunch of other nasty words behind my back. When I heard what she had said, I thought it wouldn’t affect me at first, but it started to eat away at me. I walked away to a quieter area during halftime and called my mom. I told her what happened, and it made things a million times easier to process and even let go,” she recalls. “To this day, I’ll call my mom every time I need help. If you can find someone you trust to share your problems with, it lightens your emotional load and gives you room to breathe and feel better.”
Teens can look beyond their parents in finding someone to talk to.
“The best advice I could give someone who is being bullied is to talk to an adult you trust and know is willing to help you,” says CHOC teen adviser Carina Alvaro, age 16. “This could be a teacher who has openly expressed willingness to help, or another trusted adult who can help you resolve these problems.”
Teens and cyberbullying
Nearly 15% of high school students have experienced cyberbullying, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Cyberbullying can include text messages, instant messaging and other apps, social media or gaming.
CHOC teen advisers see a clear link between social media and bullying.
“Social media plays a part in bullying because it’s a lot easier to target someone and attack them online,” says Sanam Sediqi, age 16, a CHOC teen adviser. “On social media, everyone is hiding behind a phone or computer screen, so they more freely throw out hurtful comments towards the victim, often without actual consequences.”
CHOC teen adviser Layla Valenzuela, age 14, agrees.
“Having the power of technology comes with responsibility. When you send a message, people can’t see your face or hear your voice, so there is no way of conveying sarcasm or playfulness,” she says. “A simple joke could be interpreted in an unintentional, harmful way. Being responsible for everything you do online is a huge part of being considerate and staying away from bullying.”
Social media and technology use contributes to a rising number of mental health concerns in young people, says Dr. Christopher Min, a CHOC Children’s psychologist.
“Technology is great, but it has consequences, especially on our younger population,” he says. “it’s made teenage culture very unstable.”
Tips for staying safe online
Dr. Min offers the following tips for parents on how to keep kids safe online:
Monitor teens’ social media use
Encourage teens to get together in person
Remember that parents control access to social media
For teens, his advice includes pausing before posting.
“When you’re ready to post something, pause for five to 10 seconds to consider your actions, the post’s meaning and the possible consequences,” he says. “This will help you avoid posting things you don’t want cemented on the internet forever.”
What to do if your child is being bullied
There are several things parents can do if they learn their child is being bullied, Huszti says, including:
Inform your child’s school about bullying
Talk to the bully’s parents about the behavior
Help your child build up their self-esteem. The more solid their self-esteem, the less impact a bully’s behavior will have on their overall well-being.
Monitor your child’s online activity.
Remind your child of the trusted adults in their lives in whom they can confide.
Pay attention to signs in your child that show something is wrong, such as acting withdrawn, irritable or sad; or changes in appetite or sleep. Some children will show none of these signs, so an open dialogue with your child is key.
If your child needs additional support, ask your pediatrician for a referral to a pediatric psychologist.
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Bullying continues to be an unsettling epidemic that’s most apparent in our children’s schools. There are many forms of this negative behavior, but weight is one of the top reasons why some kids get “teased,” a CHOC Children’s pediatric psychologist says.
“This behavior could lead to eating disorders, such as anorexia or binge eating,” Mery Taylor, PhD explains. “Victims of weight bullying may also develop other mental or health issues, such as anxiety, depression or social isolation.”
Although bullying can occur with kids of any weight, overweight children tend to be at higher risk for bullying. This can lead to a number of consequences, including a negative body image, she says.
In recognition of National Bullying Prevention Month, we spoke to Dr. Taylor about ways parents can tackle this issue with their kids.
Dr. Taylor suggests this three-step approach when dealing with weight-related bullying:
1) Assure your child that he is loved. Your child may be feeling unaccepted, unwanted and alone. Remind your child how much you love him and how special he is. Point out the people around him who love him and who value all the positive things about him. Focus on the positives in your child’s life.
2) Listen. Sometimes parents want to immediately problem solve. Before any actions are taken, try to connect to your child’s emotions first. Ask your child to tell you in his own words what the issue is. Find out if this is an isolated case, or if it’s a pattern.
3) Ask your child: How do you want to handle this? Although you may already have a plan of action in mind, ask your child what he feels comfortable with. This will help you execute your plan. If the bullying is a repeated pattern, you have even more ground to stand on and can take appropriate action. Contact the school and find out possible disciplinary action. If the problem persists, insist on having a meeting with the principal. Let the principal discuss the matter with the other family. It is rarely a good idea to confront the parents of the offending child.
Dr. Taylor also suggests looking out for changes in your child’s usual behavior, such as getting into fights, changes in sleep or appetite, acting withdrawn, angry or irritable. Sometimes the signs can be subtle, so it’s important to keep an open, honest dialogue with your child and regularly ask him about things going on at school.
Follows are additional tips to encourage a healthy body image:
Promote healthy eating and exercise habits and model this behavior. Depending on the case, this could be an opportunity to talk to your child about a healthier lifestyle.
Do not criticize your own body or others’ bodies.
Help your child boost his self-esteem by focusing on his talents and positive attributes.
Encourage your child to do the things he loves most. This could boost his confidence and help him redirect his focus.
Get educated on resources available for families and schools on body image and bullying.
October is Bullying Prevention Awareness Month. While much has been shared about what to do if your child is being bullied, or what to do if your child is the bully, there is also a lot to be said on how not to become a bystander of this harmful behavior. Kids see bullying all the time. They may want to help but don’t always know how. Here are a few helpful tips, recommended by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ website StopBullying.gov, to teach your kids what they can do:
Don’t give bullying an audience — If one of your child’s friends or peers begins to bully someone, they shouldn’t encourage the behavior by giving it an audience. Instead of laughing or supporting it, they can let the bully know that such behavior isn’t entertaining.
Moreover, children can help by keeping their distance from the situation. If they ignore it, it may stop. If the bullying doesn’t stop, the bystander should follow other tips, such as telling a trusted adult.
Set a good example — If a child knows not to bully others, then other students will follow their example. To help even more, children can actively participate in anti-bullying activities and projects.
Help them get away — There are a few simple, safe ways children can help the person being bullied get away from the situation. As an example, they can create a distraction. If no one is rewarding the child who is bullying by paying attention, the behavior may stop.
A bystander can offer a way for the person being bullied to leave the scene by saying something like, “Mr. Smith needs to see you right now,” or “Come on, we need you for our game.” Remind children to intervene only if it feels safe to do so, and never use violence in order to help the person get away.
Tell a trusted adult or leave them a note — An adult can help stop bullying by intervening while it’s in progress, stopping it from occurring or simply giving the person being bullied a shoulder to lean on. Remind children who witness bullying not to get discouraged if they’ve already talked to an adult and nothing has happened. They can ask a family member if they will help, and make sure the adult knows that it is repeated behavior.
Be a friend — Children can help someone who’s been bullied by simply being nice to them at another time. Being friendly can go a long way toward letting them know that they’re not alone.
Picking out backpacks, shopping for clothes, and stocking up on paper and pencils are a tell-tale sign that school is coming. For some, the new school year begins this week. Whether you have a kindergartner or a senior, the American Academy of Pediatrics offers the following tips to help ensure a terrific school year.
Making the First Day Easier
• Remind your child that there are probably a lot of students who are uneasy about the first day of school. Teachers know that students are anxious and will make an extra effort to make sure everyone feels as comfortable as possible.
• Point out the positive aspects of starting school: It will be fun! She’ll see old friends and meet new ones. Refresh her positive memories about previous years, when she may have returned home after the first day with high spirits because she had a good time.
• Find another child in the neighborhood with whom your child can walk to school or ride on the bus.
• If you feel it is appropriate, drive your child (or walk with her) to school and pick her up on the first day.
Bullying can be physical, verbal or social. It can happen at school, on the playground, on the school bus, in the neighborhood, over the Internet, or through mobile devices like cell phones.
If your child is bullied:
• Help your child learn how to respond by teaching your child how to:
1. Look the bully in the eye.
2. Stand tall and stay calm in a difficult situation.
3. Walk away.
• Teach your child how to say in a firm voice:
1. “I don’t like what you are doing.”
2. “Please do not talk to me like that.”
3. “Why would you say that?”
• Teach your child when and how to ask for help.
• Encourage your child to make friends with other children.
• Support activities that interest your child.
• Alert school officials to the problems and work with them on solutions.
• Make sure an adult who knows about the bullying can watch out for your child’s safety and well-being when you cannot be there.
• Monitor your child’s social media or texting interactions so you can identify problems before they get out of hand.
If your child is the bully:
• Be sure your child knows that bullying is never OK.
• Set firm and consistent limits on your child’s aggressive behavior.
• Be a positive role model. Show children they can get what they want without teasing, threatening or hurting someone.
• Use effective, non-physical discipline, such as loss of privileges.
• Develop practical solutions with the school principal, teachers, counselors and parents of the children your child has bullied.
If your child is a bystander:
• Tell your child not to cheer on or even quietly watch bullying.
• Encourage your child to tell a trusted adult about the bullying.
• Help your child support other children who may be bullied. Encourage your child to include these children in activities.
• Encourage your child to join with others in telling bullies to stop.
Developing Good Homework Skills
• Create an environment that is conducive to doing homework. Youngsters need a permanent work space in their bedrooms or another part of the home that is quiet, without distractions, and promotes study.
• Schedule ample time for homework.
• Establish a household rule that the TV set stays off during homework time.
• Supervise computer and Internet use.
• Be available to answer questions and offer assistance, but never do a child’s homework for her.
• Take steps to help alleviate eye fatigue, neck fatigue and brain fatigue while studying. It may be helpful to close the books for a few minutes, stretch, and take a break periodically when it will not be too disruptive.
• If your child is struggling with a particular subject, and you aren’t able to help her yourself, a tutor can be a good solution. Talk it over with your child’s teacher first.
• Some children need help organizing their homework. Checklists, timers, and parental supervision can help overcome homework problems.