With the beginning of school, we’ve had a sharp reminder of how awful bullying can be. Already, there have been two publicized stories of kids in the United States committing suicide over bullying. And let’s not forget the young girl in Issaquah who did the same last spring.
With the explosive growth of social media and mobile phone technology, today most cases of bullying involving teens include some sort of technology, which is why it’s called cyber bullying. When drama happens at school it’s almost instantly recorded and shared via phones and computers, and before long it seems everyone in a social circle knows about it.
Cyber bullying is more stressful for victims because they can’t escape it once school is out. Instead, it follows kids home in social media, texting and most recently on phone apps. Sometimes the bullying originates with technology, revealing unseemly photos of kids who are intoxicated or caught in compromising positions.
According to statistics from the i-SAFE foundation:
- Over half of adolescents have been bullied online.
- More than 1 in 3 has been threatened online.
- Over 25 percent of teens report being bullied repeatedly through their cell phones or the Internet.
- Well over half of young people do not tell their parents when cyber bullying occurs.
Research also shows that 80 percent of those involved in widespread school violence have a history of being teased or bullied.
Negative health impacts for perpetrators of bullying
Psychiatric Times cites bullying as a major public health problem with devastating consequences. You may be surprised to learn that it’s not only the victim who suffers. Studies published earlier this year in JAMA Psychiatry found that those who bully others were more likely to abuse substances as a teen or adult, have anti-social behavior and be involved in criminal activity as an adult. Even bystanders can suffer from mental health problems.
As has been illustrated with recent suicides, victims of bullying are more likely to experience depression and anxiety — impacts that can last into adulthood. Bullied kids also have more health complaints and lower academic achievement. Researchers estimate that on any given day, 160,000 children miss school due to fear of bullying.
How parents can help
While schools are doing what they can to respond to bullying, it’s hard to police when so much occurs electronically. Parents should know that kids who are struggling with bullying may have changes in sleep and eating patterns and a loss of interest in activities they typically enjoy.
While parents can supervise social media and phone use, this monitoring can become intrusive to an older teen. What’s more important is to be responsive to your teen. Encourage openness if your son or daughter is being hurt physically or emotionally or has witnessed someone else being bullied. Let your child know that you are there to help.
It is just as important to talk to your kids about not bullying others, and the devastation it can cause. Don’t tolerate name calling or your teen putting down another person. And let your child know that being a bully has negative long-term consequences.
Finally, help your teen know what to do if he or she witnesses bullying or hears someone talk about suicide. No matter the age, make sure your kids can name at least one adult who can be approached for help. And be sure they know you don’t approve of bullying.
Bullying may be hard to stop, but we can all have an impact on reducing it if we are proactive.
Patti Skelton-McGougan is Executive Director of Youth Eastside Services (YES). YES is a nonprofit organization and a leading provider of youth counseling and substance abuse services in the region. Since 1968, YES has been a lifeline for kids and families, offering treatment, education and prevention services to help youth become healthy, confident and self-reliant and families to be strong, supportive and loving. While YES accepts insurance, Medicaid and offers a sliding scale, no one is turned away for inability to pay.