October is National Bullying Prevention Month. This is one topic that should be discussed with our children, and not only during the month of October.
Bullying is defined by an American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) policy statement as “a form of aggression in which one or more children repeatedly and intentionally intimidate, harass, or physically harm a victim who is perceived as unable to defend himself or herself”.
Unfortunately, study after study shows that the incidence of bullying is on the rise with the most prevalent bullying occurring during the middle school years. One study I read stated that “160,000 students skip school everyday to avoid being bullied”. Another study stated that somewhere between 10-40% of middle school students report being bullied.
Where does bullying begin? Sadly, some of the bully behavior is modeled from parent to child, and parents can be part of the problem. Good behavior and acceptance of others needs to begin in the home with parents discussing hurt feelings and mean language in the toddler years. How many times have you heard yourself saying to your own child, “when you say that it hurts my feelings”, or “did that person hurt your feelings?” These lessons are taught early on, beginning in the sandbox. The discussions really continue throughout childhood but are obviously age appropriate.
When talking to my patients during middle school years about bullying and the “mean girls” phenomena (verbal and cyber bullying is more common among girls, while physical bullying is more common among boys) I ask about their friendships and how they perceive themselves as friends. Many middle school patients of mine report feeling excluded from some groups, or events, but at the same time are learning how to decide who are their “real” friends. The discussion often comes back to the basic, “if you are nice to everyone, you will find that you are not very interesting to bully or gossip about”. Sounds easy, but it is really hard to always be nice. It is a good place to start.
Bullying not only causes emotional effects it is often linked to physical effects as well. Anxiety, depression, substance abuse, physical complaints (head and tummy aches) and even suicidal ideas may all arise due to bullying. These are all problems that I see in my own practice.
Take some time to engage in a bit of dinner conversation and talk to your children about the various types of bullying and how to prevent it.