Let me tell you about my high school experience and bullying…
This is me in high school, circa 2003 or 2004. That means I was a freshman or sophomore at the time. I listened to a lot of punk, emo, and alternative rock. The only t-shirts I owned were band shirts from concerts I had been to, or from Hot Topic and Angry Young and Poor (which is actually where all of my clothes came from…or from a thrift shop). I always wore Chuck Taylor’s, usually high tops, or skater shoes. My hair was every color of the rainbow and I would spike the back of it up with a giant glob of hair gel to make sure it stayed in place all day. I would bleach big sections of it, then dye it using Manic Panic. I wore a ton of jewelry. I drew big X’s on my hands because I lived a Straight Edge lifestyle.
I guess you could say I was different from most kids based on my appearance alone. Which left me open to a lot of comments from my peers about my clothes or my hair. There was one kid who would make remarks every day in the cafeteria, like asking me if I sacrificed animals when I went home because I was a ‘goth’ kid. One day I wore a shirt with the Union Jack flag on it that I picked up from the thrift shop, and an upperclassman felt the need to mock me while speaking in a British accent.
Looking back, in high school especially, kids were just downright mean. Maybe they thought they were just being funny at the time and it was just a joke, and I’m sure it didn’t cross their mind the long-term damage they could have caused. Not only on those they ‘picked on’ or bullied, but even themselves. Those who bully will also experience effects from it, including to their mental health, into adulthood.
Even though kids thought it was funny to make comments about the way I dressed or did my hair, or the music I listened to, I just let it roll off my back and went about my day. Or it bothered me for a hot minute, but then I just moved on. I had the attitude that I didn’t care what they said about me because it wasn’t going to stop me from expressing myself through my appearance or my hair color or whatever else. I think I was fortunate in that way because the bullying or my reaction to it never escalated beyond that.
BUT…even though I didn’t let what they said get to me, I wish I would have said something to them or to a faculty member, or even my parents. Just because I was able to let those types of things go, doesn’t mean that someone else they ‘picked on’ or bullied could. Perhaps it had a more profound effect on them, and they carried those issues into their adulthood. I should have stood up to those bullying not just for myself, but for anyone else they may have targeted for looking different.
I can’t turn back time and hindsight is always 20/20. However, I try to learn from my mistakes when it comes to my daughters, who are 4 and 2. Even at a young age, I talk to them about bullying. I talk to them about how if someone looks different, that is no reason to pick on them or exclude them. It is a conversation we should all be having with our children. And this time of year is a great time to do it. Kids are heading back to school. There will be the new kids. The kids that changed over the summer. Your child may be one of them and experience bullying. Or they may just witness it. Below, I gathered information from stopbullying.gov to give you some ideas about what bullying is, the warning signs, the lasting effects, and prevention. I hope you find it useful in having the conversation with your child.
Thanks for reading this week!
Bullying, as defined by stopbullying.gov, is aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The power imbalance means the bully is using their power, whether it be physical strength or popularity, to control or to harm others. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Bullying can be physical attacks, or verbal, such as spreading rumors, or even just excluding someone from a group on purpose.
First, let’s talk about the children who get bullied.
Children who are bullied have one or more of the following risk factors, according to stopbullying.gov:
- Are perceived as being different from their peers, either by physical appearance or considered “not cool” for any other plethora of reasons
- Are perceived as weak or unable to defend themselves
- Are depressed, anxious, or have low self-esteem
- Are less popular than others or have few friends
- Do not get along well with others
Just because a child has these risk factors doesn’t mean they will definitely get bullied. But there are some warning signs you can watch for that may indicate that a child is being bullied, although some children don’t exhibit any warning signs at all. They are:
- Unexplainable injuries
- Lost or destroyed items, such as clothing, books, electronics, etc.
- Frequent headaches, stomach aches, feeling sick, or faking illness
- Changes in eating habits
- Difficulty sleeping or frequent nightmares
- Declining grades and loss of interest in school or just not wanting to go altogether
- Sudden loss of friends or avoiding social situations
- Feeling helpless or decreased self-esteem
- Self-destructive behaviors
Bullying does have some serious effects, many that will last into adulthood. These include depression and anxiety, increased feelings of sadness and loneliness, changes in sleep and eating patterns, and a loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed. They may also experience health complaints, as well as decreased academic achievement or school participation as they are more likely to miss, skip, or drop out of school.
It is also important to talk about the kids that do the bullying.
The risk factors for kids that are more likely to bully others include:
- Having social power or popularity OR the opposite, which is they may be isolated from their peers and easily pressured
- Aggressive and easily frustrated
- Have less parental involvement or other issues at home
- Think badly of others
- Have difficulty following rules
- View violence in a positive way
- Have friends who bully others
Again, having these risk factors doesn’t necessarily mean a child will become a bully.
There are signs that may indicate if a child is bullying others, such as:
- Getting into physical or verbal fights
- Having friends who bully others
- Are increasingly aggressive
- Get sent to the principal’s office or to detention often
- Have unexplained extra money or new belongings
- Blame others for their problems
- Don’t accept responsibility for their actions
- Are competitive and worry about their reputation or popularity
Many people might think that a bully wouldn’t have any effects of the bullying. But that’s wrong. Kids who bully others are more likely to abuse alcohol and other drugs in adolescence and as adults, get into fights, vandalize property, and drop out of school, engage in early sexual activity, have criminal convictions and traffic citations as adults, and be abusive toward their romantic partners, spouses, or children as adults
While all of that is great information, the question is how do we prevent bullying? How can we respond if we suspect a bullying situation?
- Talk to your kids about bullying, like what it is and how to stand up to it safely. Let them know that bullying is unacceptable. Help them come up with a plan if they ever experience bullying or witness someone else being bullied.
- Communicate, by checking in often and knowing who their friends are, asking about school, and be understanding of their concerns. Stay up-to-date with class newsletters, the school website, events, knowing their teachers and counselors, etc.
- Be encouraging of your child to do what they love. It can boost their confidence, help them make new friends, and protect them from bullying behavior.
- Be a role model for how to treat others with kindness and respect.
For more information, check out stopbullying.gov