Bullying … It’s Happening More Than You Think

1 in 7 children are involved in bully-victim interactions.  All children lose when aggression is tolerated: the bullies, the victims and the bystanders.

Some of the more common forms of bullying include:

  • Physical violence and attacks (including biting, pushing and hitting)
  • Verbal taunts, name-calling and put-downs
  • Spreading rumors
  • Exclusion and isolation from the peer group

Typically boys and girls bully very differently.  Boys, who make up 70% of bullies, tend to be physically aggressive.  Girls are usually more verbal, using teasing and social isolation as their form of attack.  Both ways are harmful and have long lasting effects on the victims.

Research has shown that there is not one standard bully profile.  Some bullies have high self-esteems and are leaders amongst their peers; while others tend to have difficulty making friends and my be insecure and lacking in confidence.  One common finding within the research shows that bullies are often angry individuals who feel justified in dominating others.  Many children who are aggressors are also victims at home and/or witness one parent victimizing his/her spouse.  It has also been shown that young children learn to be aggressive through watching television shows that display violent and negative behaviour.  Therefore, it is important that parents monitor what their children view.

The flip side of the bully profile is the victim profile.  Surprisingly, victims are not always that different from their peers.  They do not always wear glasses, they are not always overweight and they do not always entice bullying with annoying behaviour.  Generally, these children are vulnerable, less confident and have low self-esteems.  They also tend to be withdrawn from others and lacking of supportive friends.  Due to being bullied, victims often display nervous and anxious behaviours in and out of school.  As well, they often experience a drop in grades and reluctance to go to school.  Victims do not tend to fight back and can be prone to mood swings and outbursts of anger resulting from suppressed emotions and the inability to express themselves to their attackers.  Some of these children may be victims of abuse at home, whereas others may come from homes where their parents foster dependence by being overprotective.

HOW CAN COUNSELING HELP

The frequency of bullying has increased in recent years and continues to be on the rise.  Studies show that bullying usually takes place at school and is directly correlated with the violence we see in our communities and society in general.  As a result, many schools are adopting a zero tolerance policy toward bullying.  Research has shown that interventions by parents, schools and counsellors can help bullies and victims.  However, timing is everything; the earlier the intervention is implemented, the more effective it will be.  To help deal with bullies many schools have set up anti-bullying programs.  Nonetheless, schools can only do so much on their own; they need to work as part of a team with parents and society.  Counseling can prove to be helpful on many different levels.

Schools would find it beneficial to have a counselor visit.  Through a workshop, the counselor can provide the teachers, principal and other core staff members with information to help identify possible bullies and victims, as well as strategies to best deal with them.  A counselor can also assist the school in setting up an anti-bullying program.

Parents who choose to seek counseling for themselves and/or their child may do so whether their child is a bully or a victim.  Counselors can help parents of a bully set up a behaviour modification program in the home and they can work with the child to learn more appropriate ways of dealing with anger.  Other tips for parents whose child is a bully include:

  • Spend time with your child and set reasonable rules for their activities
  • Teach your child problem solving skills other than using force
  • Increase your supervision of your child’s peers and their activities and whereabouts; do not tolerate bullying in any form

Parents of victims often feel helpless; they want to protect their child, but cannot.  These parents can utilize counseling as an outlet for their own feelings while at the same time learning how to provide comfort and support to their children.  Victims can gain a lot of confidence through attending counseling; they can learn how to better respond to a bully and how to stand up for themselves without having to fight.  Other tips for parents whose child is a victim include:

  • If the bullying continues, go to the school superintendent or to the school board and trustee
  • Insist that the parents of the other child or children involved in the bullying interaction are told about all incidents
  • Show support by believing victims and by reassuring them that they are not at fault

Bullying has become a serious epidemic in our schools and in our communities.  However, as people begin to pull together to deal with the situation, bullies and victims will be taught the skills needed to develop into confident, well-adjusted adults.

Susan Lieberman is in private practice in Toronto as a family therapist and public speaker. For more information call (416) 512-6356.

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