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Stop bullying: What parents can do
HEALTH MATTERS

Stop bullying: What parents can do

Bullying can have long-term effects on a young person’s social, emotional and physical well-being. It can impair school performance and diminish a child’s sense of self-worth and safety. Bullying correlates highly with youth suicide. Bullying worsens other risk factors that threaten a child’s resiliency.

This is a prevalent problem; a 2019 study revealed that, nationwide, 20% of students aged 12-18 experienced some form of bullying.

The federal website, stopbullying.gov, defines bullying as, “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time”.

“Imbalance of power” is a factor when youth perceive kids who bully as more popular, physically bigger or stronger, wealthier, or able to influence peers’ perception of the youth.

Bullying can be:

• Verbal (mean-spirited teasing, threats, inappropriate sexual comments or taunting).

• Social (spreading rumors, causing public embarrassment, leaving kids out, influencing peers not to be friends with the child),

• Physical (physically harming a person by hitting, kicking, pushing, tripping, pinching, spitting, taking/breaking someone’s things or rude gestures).

All forms of bullying can be committed through electronics, such as through email, online gaming, and social networking sites/apps.

Bullying warning signs may include: lost/destroyed clothing or other personal items, declining grades, avoidance of school or other social situations, unexplainable injuries, decreased self-esteem, difficulty sleeping/nightmares, and a sudden change or loss in friends. Some children may mention feelings of hopelessness, engage in self-harm, or talk about suicide.

Kids might be afraid or embarrassed to talk, or fear that telling adults might make the situation worse. Parents can encourage open conversation by bringing the topic up periodically, and letting kids know that they will support them through problem solving and reporting.

If your child reports bullying, listen. Gather specific details about what happened, where, and when the bullying incident(s) took place. Share these details with the child’s school staff, and ask the school personnel how the school plans to deal with the incident. Collaborate with the school to safety-plan and prevent future bullying incidents or retaliation.

Parents should not attempt to confront the child who bullies or their family, and parents should not advise their child to physically fight back. These behaviors could escalate the bullying, according to a Montana Office of Public Instruction fact sheet.

If the bully is online, consider setting limits for your child’s internet use. Consider blocking the bully, if this is an option.

Parents worried their child may be bullying others can also seek help from the school. Consider talking to your child about how bullying hurts, and encourage empathy. Talk to your child about how his/her behavior may be impacting the other person, and how they would feel in that situation. Set clear rules and expectations for behavior. There should be consistent consequences if those rules are not followed.

Children learn through modeled behavior. If a parent shows acts of kindness and empathy, they are just as likely to follow suit as when they act out negative behavior modeled to them.

Whether you are caring for a child who bullies or helping a child being bullied, you can seek support through your child’s school, mental health providers, and parenting organizations.

You can find more information on bullying prevention at the Montana Office of Public Instruction website, opi.mt.gov by clicking on “Families & Students” or check out the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website, stopbullying.gov.

Brandi McFerran, a licensed clinical social worker at RiverStone Health, can be reached at 406-247-3210.

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