A: The best advice is to try to stand up for yourself, but get backup. I‚Äôm a proponent of teaching your kids to stand up for themselves as best as they can, but at the point that the child feels endangered by a bully, they have to tell an adult‚Äîa bus driver, teacher, school counselor, principal or their parents‚Äîas soon as they can. There‚Äôs only so much that kids can do on their own. Another technique to stop bullying is to train other kids to intervene. If a bully is attacking a kid on the playground and other kids are feeding into it, then he‚Äôs going to feel empowered. A technique to stop bullying in the schoolyard is to empower the community of kids to stand up for the underdog. If the bully is attacking somebody, and other kids in the schoolyard say, ‚ÄúThat‚Äôs not OK, and that‚Äôs not acceptable,‚Äù then you can get the bully to back off.
Q: What should a parent do if their child tells them they‚Äôre being bullied?
A:They should let the school know.
Q: Are there different types of bullying that children should be prepared for?
A: There‚Äôs elementary school bullying, middle school bullying and high school bullying. Elementary school is when kids are starting to learn their social relational skills, and it tends to be more of what we call ‚Äúplayground politics,‚Äù but around fifth grade, it starts to get a little bit more intense and serious. From what I‚Äôve heard and seen clinically, the middle school bullying really accelerates, and there are two different types of bullying: Girls tend to bully more from triangulation and by social backhandedness, whereas boys are more overt in their aggression and would rather just duke it out and get it over with. So boys are more physically aggressive and girls are more socially aggressive, using social alliances to be either inclusive or exclusive.
Q: What about cyberbullying?
A: When people are online they feel as if they have free rein to say whatever they want, and it‚Äôs not like saying it to somebody‚Äôs face. But what happens online is just as real and just as hurtful as what happens offline. If parents are empowering their kids with technology, they need to supervise it‚Äîmonitor the email, monitor the social networking accounts, monitor the texts, and so on. There‚Äôs a really good website, stopcyberbullying.org‚Äîand I encourage people to take a look at that.
Q: What kind of lasting effects can bullying have on a child?
A: It can be devastating. It can lead to depression, suicide attempts, self-injury, low self-esteem, and isolation. We see kids all the time at the Crisis Response Center, or in clinic, who have been bullied, and we see kids in the emergency room who have made suicide attempts after some form of bullying. That‚Äôs why we teach our kids not to just take it and keep it inside, but to tell somebody about it. The bully wants to isolate, and by isolating, he or she gets more power over the person, and long-term consequences are very serious. The biggest consequences are a sense of disempowerment and a feeling that the bully is winning.
Start the Conversation with the Help of These Books and Movies
A number of kid-friendly books and movies address the topic of bullying and might be helpful in starting a conversation with your kids. Some of Dr. Leipsic‚Äôs favorites include:
- The Berenstein Bears and the Bully, paperback in the Berenstein Bears series
- Cyberbully, an ABC Family movie
- An American Girl: Chrissa Stands Strong, book and movie in the American Girl series