Winning the Battle Against Bullying

Premier Health Now

What’s the impact of bullying on our youth? As many as 35 percent of young people ages 10 to 18 are bullied face to face and another 15 to 20 percent are cyber bullied. 

Netflix’s popular 13 Reasons Whyseries spotlights bullying as one of many contributing factors in a fictional high school girl’s suicide. 

In a devastating real-world event, an 8-year-old Cincinnati boy hanged himself after allegedly being bullied.

Premier Health Now asked Samaritan Behavioral Health Director Melissa Jones, MRC, LPCC-SC, LICDC-CS, about the effects of bullying and what parents and children impacted by bullying can do.

Social media expands and intensifies the possibilities for bullying, Jones says. Eighty percent of teens are using cell phones and around 70 percent of those say they’ve seen cyber bullying. She explains, “It can look like name calling or something not so overt. A group of girls may post a photo of themselves at a sleepover and tag a girl who wasn’t invited, simply to emphasize exclusion”

Bullies are made, not born, Jones says. It is a learned behavior either at home or in society. “Bullying often is the child’s response to stress, inconsistent discipline, abuse or being bullied by their own parents. Kids bully because they have no control in their own world. It is a way for them to regain power. Bullying can happen within the sibling relationship, or if that child perceives another child as weak or a threat.”

Jones adds that exposure to violence through gaming, television or in their home environment lessens a person’s ability to empathize with the person being hurt. 

“Most parents underestimate the impact of gaming and social media,” she states. “Aggression in children is subtle but cumulative with constant exposure.” She limits how much her own sons, ages 7 and 12, are exposed to technology because the violence is so pervasive.

To counteract the effects of bullying, Jones offers parents the following suggestions: 

  1. Communicate with your child early and often. Begin dialoguing when your children are young to establish yourself as a trusted resource. Engage in discussion about their school day. Ask how they feel about a movie or a neighborhood event. Converse but don’t interrogate. “The ability to have difficult conversations later on is built on this established, ongoing communication,” Jones says.
  2. Maintain eye contact while talking. “When children have to look someone in the eye, they have to hold their heads up, and that gives a show of confidence,” Jones says. “That eye-to-eye contact can mitigate bullying. I also teach my kids to practice ‘what if?’ scenarios. That role playing may give them a practice scenario to refer back to when confronted by a bully.”
  3. Teach your children empathy. Demonstrate your own compassion and empathy. “A loving parent can override a lot of the negativity children face,” Jones says. Show your children how to resolve conflicts effectively by the way you resolve conflicts.
  4. Monitor phone and electronic use early on. “Be involved from the start,” Jones counsels. “You can place apps on your teen’s phone that will feed directly to your phone. It’s best to monitor them in some way to decrease their exposure to violence or other inappropriate material. If your child violates your rules for use, don’t be afraid to take the phone away. It may be a welcome break for your child. However, if you see dramatic shifts in behavior when the technology is taken away, this is a red flag that the amount of technology used by your teen needs to be reconsidered. 
  5. Limit screen time. The average child spends seven to eight hours a day looking at a screen. Jones highly values activities that use another part of the brain, such as joining a school club, playing sports or playing in a band. Interaction with other kids and talking face to face promotes healthy social development and helps counteract the self-doubt a bully creates. 

Jones points out, “Being on our phones can be addictive. I work really hard not to be constantly on my phone in front of my kids. I don’t want them growing up feeling that I don’t pay attention to what is happening right in front of me, their life.” 

Finally, she says, “If you haven’t already started communicating routinely with your child, start now. It’s never too late.”