It’s upsetting to learn your child is being teased, threatened or physically harmed by another student at school — but even worse, if your child is being bullied, there’s a good chance you may never find out. While nearly 30 percent of children in grades 6-12 report that they have been bullied, only 20 to 30 percent of these incidents are ever reported to adults.
Kids aren’t just being subjected to bullies at school — they’re online too. And if your child identifies as LGBT, the statistics are unsettling: More than 55 percent of LGBT students experience cyberbullying.
It’s important to be able to recognize signs that your child is being bullied. Here’s what you should keep an eye out for:
Silent treatment. Your chatty kid who regularly offers details about his day suddenly isn’t saying much. It’s likely that there is something specific he doesn’t want to share.
Academic performance is suffering. An inexplicable and abrupt drop in grades is cause for concern and may be the result of a lack of concentration due to the threat of a bully.
A loss of friends. Listen for comments about eating lunch alone or being shunned by the regular crowd. Former friends may be scared that they’ll be the bully’s next victims if they spend time with your child.
Missed classes. Your typically healthy kid is asking to stay home from school or spending extra time in the nurse’s office. The sudden onset of chronic symptoms could be an attempt to avoid a bully, but the stress of being bullied also could be weakening your child’s immune system.
Lost or broken belongings. If electronics, jewelry, books or clothing are going missing or being destroyed without explanation, a bully might be culprit. Also, take note if your child is coming home hungry — a bully could be stealing lunch money or food.
A drastic change in demeanor. Kids who are being bullied often show signs of depression, like a change in eating or sleep habits, aggression, anxiety or other symptoms of distress.
Insistence on changing a long-standing routine. Your child no longer wants to participate in soccer practice, ride the school bus or be dropped off in front of the school. She could be avoiding a bully.
Unexplained bumps and bruises. Be alert to the usage of code words when your child gives you an explanation. If he claims that another student was “just messing around,” that child might be a bully.
If you suspect your child is the victim of a bully, take action. Ask direct questions about the signs you’ve observed without forcing the information out of her — remember, she might fear retaliation if she tells you, so be patient. Once you understand what is going on, contact the school to find out its policy on bullying. Sit down with the principal, the guidance counselor and the appropriate teachers to determine how to resolve the issue and ensure a safe environment for your child.
But what if your child is the bully?
It can be difficult for parents to accept that their child might be psychologically or physically hurting other children, but it’s important not to turn a blind eye to red flags in your child’s behavior. If you do not take action, your child may face consequences like expulsion from school or legal repercussions, and bullying other children may signify an underlying mental health issue that requires treatment. Here are some common signs to look for:
An unstable home life. Children from homes where violence occurs are far more likely to be bullies. In addition, a bully may not be getting enough attention at home, and parents may not be reinforcing appropriate rules and discipline.
A lack of empathy. If you notice your child can’t seem to understand how others are feeling or is intolerant of those who are different, she may be a bully.
Overly concerned with popularity. Research has shown that the higher a kid climbs up the social ladder, the more likely he is to be involved in bullying.
Too much time online. Kids who are cyberbullying other children spend way more time online than kids who aren’t. Take note if your child seems to be online more than her peers.
Refuses to take responsibility. Is your child quick to blame other kids or siblings when something goes wrong? Bullies often struggle to own up to their actions.
A victim of bullying. Whether out of frustration or as a way to retaliate, victims of bullies can sometimes become bullies.
If your child displays signs of bullying, try to find out where these behaviors are coming from. Be ready to deal with school officials as well as other parents whose children may have been hurt by yours. It’s important to remain calm and listen to what others have to say about your child and his actions. Finally, get your child the help he needs to develop new coping strategies. Your vigilance as a parent will ensure that all kids, including your own, are safe and welcomed at school.