Bullying and victimisation is not a new problem – it’s been around for generations.
Looking at current statistics, less than 50% (42.2%) of children in Australia, did not have involvement in bullying or aggressive behaviour when surveyed.
Bullying is notable for occurring across all social classes, ethnicities and gender.
I have personally witnessed the prevalence of childhood bullying during my career as a counsellor at Kids Helpline. It was not uncommon for me to have a shift where I would be speaking with a young person, struggling with bullying at school. Although I have since moved on from this organisation, one needs to simply look at their current statistical report to see that 5% of their calls are from someone suffering from bullying.
What is Bullying?
Bullying is different to conflict. Conflict is something that naturally occurs in relationships, where different perspectives and understandings of issues will lead to conflict. The difference is that with time and a caring, patient attitude, conflict can be resolved. Bullying cannot. Bullying is essentially an abusive action towards another that unless intervention occurs will continue even when harm has occurred.
The definition of bullying is composed of three main points: essentially a misuse of power between parties occurs, causing harm through a variety of behaviours (verbal, physical and/or social), and this behaviour is then repeated in an ongoing manner. Single incidents or disagreements are not bullying. The main component is the imbalance of power that occurs within the relationship.
What are the Types of Bullying?
Bullying can be described and labelled in a number of different ways to help us understand what is occurring. This could be the type of behaviour, the setting, the means, how visible it is, the harm that occurs and the context in which it occurs. Bullying does not simply fit into one category, because of the complexity of angles researchers have labelled various types so we can get a good idea of what’s going on. Here’s a few examples:
Identifying bullying by its behaviour: specifically, verbal, physical and social.
Verbal bullying refers to those behaviours such as teasing, name calling and insults about attributes or characteristics.
Physical bullying refers to behaviours such as pushing, shoving, punching, kicking. Another behaviour one might include here is stealing.
Finally, social bullying refers to the exclusion of another person or sharing information that will have a harmful impact on the individual’s social world.
Another way to identify bullying is direct and indirect.
Direct bullying occurs when the bullying takes place directly between the two parties.
Indirect bullying occurs when the actions are indirect, for example spreading rumours or passing insults onto another person. This does harm to the individual’s social status and peer relationships.
Another commonly used way to identify bullying is by its setting, the two being in person or online (cyberbullying).
Verbal, physical and social bullying are easily understood to occur in person. When reflecting on an online environment we can see that verbal and social bullying occur very easily, but threats of physical harm can also occur.
How Does Bullying Impact My Child?
Research has shown that bullying causes significant emotional harm for its victims. Additionally, victims are more likely to struggle with drug use, eating disorders and depression. One particularly alarming impact is the increased suicide rates for individuals who are victims of bullying.
As a Parent, What Should I Look For?
It may be possible to identify the occurrence of bullying from physical symptoms such as cuts, bruises and scrapes. However not all bullying is physical in nature.
Victims of bullying often display symptoms of anxiety and depression, eg worry, irritability, anger, low mood, tears, lack of interest, poor concentration, poor sleep, weight loss or gain.
As previously mentioned, there is also an increase in suicidal ideation – your child may start to talk about, or general conversation might consist of a strong sense of helplessness and hopelessness.
Academic performance may be impacted, and school refusal may also occur in severe cases. Some other things to think about are if your child has a new fear of walking to school or wants to change their route to school.
Finally, psychosomatic symptoms may arise. Psychosomatic refers to instances in which physical symptoms arise in response to severe emotional distress. In the case of bullying, frequent stomach aches and headaches may occur.
What to Do if your Child is being Bullied
If you find out that your child is being bullied, most importantly, stay calm. This can be a challenge as you are finding out that your child is in harm’s way, what makes this important however is that your child will pick up on your attitude and emotional response. How you respond will influence their response and in turn their behaviour.
Instead, the aim is to try and create an environment where your child feels safe to share his or her story, let them know that it is okay to report bullying to adults, but most importantly, ensure that they understand that what is happening is not their fault.
So, what are some strategies they can use at school? Let your child know that often bullies are just trying to get a reaction, and explore with them various ways of responding to the bullying behaviour. Perhaps ignoring them, calmly asking them to stop it before walking away, or pretending they don’t care, are all options.
Another strategy is what is known as “fogging”. It sounds a bit odd but this is essentially where the victim agrees that the verbal taunts and abuse from the bully may be true (it is important to remain calm while doing this). Essentially the reaction that the bully is looking for does not occur. However a word of caution, fogging is a strategy that you will need to practise with your children so they learn to think of what to say while remaining calm in the situation.
If you discover your child is a victim of bullying, you may like to take them to see a psychologist or counsellor for extra support.
Author: Sharyn Jones, B Psych (Hons).
Sharyn Jones is a Brisbane psychologist with 10 years of experience working with adults, adolescents, children and their parents. Using a combination of cognitive behavioural and solution focused therapies, she aims to facilitate positive changes in client’s lives so that they can achieve and obtain their desired goals.
To make an appointment with Brisbane Psychologist Sharyn Jones, try Online Booking – Wishart. Alternatively, you can call Vision Psychology Brisbane on (07) 3088 5422.
- Kuykendall, S. (2012). Bullying. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Greenwood.