Is your child being bullied? Know the signs

According to nobullying.com, the world’s authority on bullying, one in four Australian high school children has been the victim of bullying, and 64% of females from Years 6 to 12 reported being cyber-bullied. So how do you know if your child is being bullied?

In the traditional sense, bullying refers to the use of force, threat, or coercion to abuse, intimidate, or aggressively dominate others. Often, bullying involves the perception that there is an imbalance of social or physical power between the ‘bully’ and the victim. There are several types of bullying including:

  • Physical Bullying: hitting, kicking, pinching, tripping, or damaging property
  • Verbal Bullying: name calling, insults, teasing, homophobic, racist, or discriminatory remarks
  • Social Bullying: is difficult to identify and is designed to impact someone’s social reputation or cause humiliation. This can often involve lying, gossiping, negative looks, and purposeful social exclusion.
  • Cyber Bullying: overt or covert bullying using forms of technology including smart phones or computers, via text message, website/blog posts, or social media platforms.

As the use of technology continues to become more prominent in our daily lives, society seems to be drifting from this more traditional notion of physical bullying, and drifting more towards cyber bullying, which often in itself encases aspects of social, verbal, and emotional abuse. Interestingly, in our society, many behaviours that are classified as bullying, such as hitting, punching, or damaging property, are classified as criminal offences. It is therefore no wonder that victims of bullying report experiencing long lasting effects, or in more extreme cases, feel the need to self-harm or question their own existence.

Signs that your child might be a victim of bullying include:

  • An unexpected change in grades, disinterest in academic tasks
  • School avoidance or reluctance, and attempts to fake illness
  • Complaints of headaches and stomach aches
  • Changes in eating habits (either binge eating or a significant reduction in intake)
  • Signs of depression in children, which include: low self-esteem, negative self-talk, irritability, aggression towards siblings, disinterest in hobbies
  • Sleep disturbances or nightmares
  • Loss of belongings
  • Unexplained injuries or bruises
  • Avoidance of social situations (i.e., birthday parties) or loss of friendships
  • Self-destructive behaviours or damaging of property
  • Withdrawn behaviour, especially after using technology or immediately after school

It is important to note that your child can still be a victim of bullying and not display many of these signs, as they may feel ashamed or embarrassed about their situation. It is therefore extremely important to constantly check in with the school for any reports of social conflict, while also fostering a relationship with your child which makes them feel comfortable discussing these difficult issues with you. You can do this by:

  • Organising weekly 1:1 time or activities with your child, where you may go for a walk, go to the skate park, get an ice cream, or have a backyard picnic…the list is endless!
  • If you have some free time, offer to volunteer at school, coach a softball game, or meet with your children’s teachers regularly to stay updated on their academic performance.
  • Sit down with them as they do homework. Help them practice their chosen sport, talent, or instrument
  • Invite your kids’ friends over so you know what kind of influences they are around.
  • Don’t be afraid to muck around and be a ‘big kid.’ Let your kids know that things don’t always have to be so serious between you. Of course, you want them to respect you and your rules, but you also want to be able to laugh with them. A sense of fun can help facilitate positive communication and a sense of trust and acceptance.
  • Being trustworthy is key. As a parent, it’s important that you build a foundation of trust. Your child needs to know that they can rely on you to be there. When you say you’ll do something, do it. Keep your word. This helps your child form basic secure attachments that will influence their future relationships.
  • However, trust also means that as a parent, you respect your child’s need for privacy and keeping their confidences when they do share with you. You might not believe everything your child says, but it is important to always give them the benefit of the doubt
  • If your child does disclose bullying, it is important to ensure we do not accidently ‘punish’ them for being a victim. For example, if your child is being cyber bullied, your instinct reaction might be to take away their phone and restrict access, in order to protect them from online insults. However, this instils a consequence on the child rather than the bully. Do not be afraid to report these offences to your child’s school or the relevant authorities.

Unfortunately, we are constantly inundated with tragic stories of young Australians taking their own lives due to harassment and bullying. We, as a society, collectively show our outrage whenever this occurs, however this is often an afterthought. It is time that we stop our ‘lip service’ and stand united against this criminal behaviour. March 16th is the 8th annual National Day of Action against bullying and Violence. This is Australia’s key anti-bullying event for schools, where we are asked to imagine a world free from bullying. Let’s all make a commitment to ask our schools what they are doing to mark this annual event so that it is more than just a reaction when there is a bad news story.

By Emily Habelrih

IF YOU NEED HELP AND SUPPORT, CONTACT:

Parentline: 1300 30 1300 / www.parentline.com.au
Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800 / www.kidshelpline.com.au

 

For more on mental health, try Anxiousness in children – should you be concerned? and Overcoming separation anxiety