|My son, a first-grader, recently told me that a boy in his class has been picking on him. He told me how this boy would go up to him and other boys in the class and kick them in the crotch or try to grab their testicles!
I feel terrible, because I had no idea! The school year is almost over, and I don't what I should do. My husband says, "Boys will be boys" but even he agrees that this is a little too much. What should I do?
What you son is describing is bullying, plain and simple. Although it is late in the school year, you should take action by reassuring your son that he did nothing to bring this on and that you will help him. Many parents, unfortunately, think that bullying and being bullied are rites of passage, something all kids endure at some point in their lives just like suffering through boring assemblies and bad cafeteria food. But bullying is not, and should not be, considered a normal part of growing up.
Studies done in Norway show that bullying is most common in the younger age groups but is still present even in the mid-teens. The percent of children who are bullied ranges from 17% in the second grade to about 5% in the ninth grade. A recent survey in the United States shows that 10% of children reported being bullied, 13% reported being a bully, and 6% reported being both bullied and being the bully. This survey was limited to sixth through tenth graders.
What is bullying?
Bullying involves intentional and repeated actions and words designed to intimidate or hurt another person. There is usually an imbalance of power, either physical or psychological, between the perpetrator and his or her victim. Occasional name calling and shoving is not considered bullying because they are usually not repetitive events. On the other hand, if a child is on the receiving end of taunts and name-calling by any persons regularly, then that is considered bullying. Physical aggression, social alienation, verbal aggression, and intimidation are the four main categories of bullying.
Many parents are shocked when they find out their child has been the victim of a bully, and a few parents are shocked to find out that their child has been a bully. Victims tend to be more passive, anxious, and insecure than non-victims and to have more negative views of themselves. A small percentage of victims are termed "provocative" because they are both anxious and aggressive, often seeking the attention of the perpetrator.
The bullies, by comparison, tend to be aggressive children and frequently lack empathy for others. Bullies usually have a positive self-image and a desire to be in control. The bully cherishes power. The cherished myth of the bully as a loner with a poor self image seeking to bolster his own self-worth by attacking others didn't hold up to scrutiny of scientific study. Of course, there will always be victims and perpetrators who do not fit these profiles! Any child can be a bully, and any child can be bullied if the circumstances are right.
Although bullying is common, studies report that only half the children report what is happening to a parent, and even fewer to a teacher. Few adults witness the acts of the bully because most aggression occurs at school and places where there is little oversight by an adult. The playground, cafeteria, and rest rooms are common locations for the perpetrator to act.
Children who are victims may develop a variety of vague health complaints to avoid going to school or wherever the bullying is taking place. Sometimes this kind of school avoidance behavior can be a red flag for parents, so ask your child if he or she is being picked on and bullied.
What to do about bullying
If your child reveals to you that he or she is being bullied, take action. Parents can help the child by teaching him how to demonstrate an air of self-confidence by making good eye contact, speaking clearly and loudly enough to be heard. Remind the child to walk away from the encounter, tell the bully firmly that he is in the wrong, and to tell a teacher, parent or other adult what is happening.
Parents of bullies should also intervene to stop the behavior and make it clear that bullying will not be tolerated or ignored. One study showed that 60% of boys who were identified as bullies in grades six through nine had at least one criminal conviction by age 24 years, between 35 and 40% of these children had three or more criminal convictions by that same age. Psychological counseling is often helpful and may identify the underlying problems such as depression or conduct disorder.
There are many resources for parents and teachers. There are a number of good books such as Tackling Bullying in Your School: A Practical handbook for Teachers by Sharp and Smith as well as Bully Proofing Your School by Garrity, Jens and Porter.
There are also some helpful web sites such as www.nobully.org.nz.
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