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The Importance of Understanding Bullying

The Importance of Understanding Bullying

Bullying takes different shapes and forms and can have having have damaging effects on the life of a child. Though there are different degrees of bullying, every kid is unique and has their own way of responding to these situations. That’s why it’s important for parents, guardians, and teachers to understand bullying, so that they can create a dialogue and identify when a child needs help.

What does bullying look like?

Bullying can start with something as simple as teasing. Whether it’s about a kid’s physical appearance, hygiene, or home life – what matters is how these comments are received by the person they land on.

“A lot of what I saw is what teenagers call ‘baking’ or ‘treating’ or ‘roasting’ – they were teasing each other,” said Andrea Rosenberg, manager of learning partnerships [PK1] at Mercy Home. “It would be all fun and games until it actually hurt someone’s feelings.”

Rosenberg leads Mercy Home’s Resilient Schools program and has worked with students and teachers for ten years inside and outside of the classroom. She also spent several years working in youth programs at Mercy Home. During this time, she developed a set of rules regarding teasing.

“It’s kind of hard to know as an adult – when does it cross the line?” Rosenberg said. “I think it crosses the line when someone is hurt by it. Some of my experience in residential was that kids don’t seem hurt by it on the outside, but it is impacting their self-esteem. As the adult, you play a role to encourage young people to relate to their peers without teasing and by having positive conversations and relationships.”

Rosenberg leads Mercy Home’s Resilient Schools program and has worked with students and teachers for ten years inside and outside of the classroom. She also spent several years working in youth programs at Mercy Home. During this time, she developed a set of rules regarding teasing.

“It would be all fun and games until it actually hurt someone’s feelings.”

“It’s kind of hard to know as an adult – when does it cross the line?” Rosenberg said. “I think it crosses the line when someone is hurt by it. Some of my experience in residential was that kids don’t seem hurt by it on the outside, but it is impacting their self-esteem. As the adult, you play a role to encourage young people to relate to their peers without teasing and by having positive conversations and relationships.”

But bullying can be more than just teasing – it can be physical as well. A child may experience physical bullying if they are regularly hit, kicked, or pushed by their peers. Some of the signs that a child is experiencing physical bullying include cuts or bruises and damaged clothing.

If you see a child being physically bullied, you should step in if possible, or alert the proper authority. According to Stopbullying.Gov, when bystanders intervene, bullying stops within 10 seconds 57% of the time.

And just as technology has transformed the way students learn in the classroom, it has also changed the way kids bully each other. In the past, bullying may have ended at the schoolyard or the bus stop, but now, cyber-bullying allows harassment to take place via social media or text messaging, even when children are at home.

Why do kids bully?

As adults, we absolutely want to provide immediate assistance to a child who is being bullied. But rather than simply punishing the bully for their negative behavior, it’s important to understand why that person is bullying. What has happened in their life that has caused them to act this way? Oftentimes, there is more than meets eye.

“Mercy Home’s perspective is through thinking about trauma and adversity. Thinking about, ‘a young person is bullying other kids, but what happened to them that may be at the source of this behavior?’” Rosenberg said.

“I’d say it’s very likely that they have been bullied – from all the way to maybe being teased as a child, to having experienced a high level of abuse or neglect – and those experiences are impacting how they relate to peers. Our relationships very early in life, people who care for us – whether it’s mom and dad, grandma and grandpa – are our blueprint for how we relate to other people.”

It may not always seem like it, but the person who is bullying others may need just as much help as the person they are bullying. In taking the time to understand their situation, you may be able to prevent some very serious negative outcomes down the road.

“Mercy Home’s perspective is through thinking about trauma and adversity. Thinking about, ‘a young person is bullying other kids, but what happened to them that may be at the source of this behavior?’”

How parents and teachers can address bullying

Bullying doesn’t always have to be addressed after the fact – there are different measures parents and teachers can take to help prepare kids to handle these situations. One of the best ways parents can help kids avoid bullying is making sure they work on their social skills.

“I feel like some bullying is rooted in kids not knowing how to make friends,” Rosenberg said. “And so, the preventative thing would be teaching them strategies for making friends – talk about something you have in common. Because often times kids who bully have an insecurity and maybe feel outside of the group, and so to try to get inside they do actually the opposite of what they should do.”

One of the ways teachers can adopt this approach is by building classroom community. Rosenberg has seen a popular movement in schools in which teachers utilize morning meetings to facilitate ice breakers, talk about their weekends, and get to know each other. In building this classroom community, the hope is that a stronger sense of inclusion and comradry will prevent the disconnect that often leads to bullying.

During her time in the classroom, Rosenberg also equipped students with different tools so that they could be prepared to respond to bullying when it does occur.

“We did some roleplays, and this sounds weird, but you practice teasing,” Rosenberg said.

“You have your kid tease you, and then you respond with things like, ‘so…’, using self-talk or just ignoring them. And then, it sounds bad, but you have the young person practice by teasing them. Not things that are hurtful – we would always do something playful. And it’s always in the structure of, ‘this is something we’re working on together in how you can use these strategies when it does happen to them,’ – and then have them use the strategy. Additionally, we used to have kids draw pictures of them using the strategy when the teasing does happen[ASR2] .” If you would like to learn more strategies, an excellent resource is “Easing the Teasing: Helping Your Child Cope with Name-Calling, Ridicule, and Verbal Bullying” by Judy S. Freeman.

Unfortunately, cyberbullying has added another dimension of this problem for parents and teachers to worry about. And cyberbullying can be even harder to detect as it can occur in private spaces such as text messaging or social media. But having an open dialogue around social media and setting rules and limits around it may be one of the best ways to address cyberbullying.

“A lot of the preventive work when it comes to cyberbullying is informing parents about how to limit their kids’ time on social media,” Rosenberg said.

“There’s no easy answer – completely stopping them from being on social media doesn’t necessarily help. But we need to be intentional about teaching kids how to use it, how to report other kids’ misuse, and how to limit the amount of time it’s used.”

“A lot of the preventive work when it comes to cyberbullying is informing parents about how to limit their kids’ time on social media.”

Having a better understanding of bullying can help you identify children who need help – whether they are the one being bullied or doing the bullying. By taking action, you can prevent both short-term and long-term negative outcomes. Your intervention can make a tremendous difference, and even change a young person’s life.

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