Bullying and Being Bullied

One of the most concerning issues affecting children continues to be bullying, which can lead to low self-esteem, health problems, poor grades and even suicidal thoughts for its young victims. Jami Margolis, LCPC, Johns Hopkins Children’s Center mental health counselor, offers some tips for parents of children who are bullied and are bullies themselves. Interview by Gary Logan.

How common is bullying today?
Bullying is something that has been going on for a very long time and, unfortunately, now it has reached epidemic levels in schools, especially with social media. We usually begin to see cases of bullying in November and December, after kids have settled into their cliques.

Who is the typical victim?
Anyone can be bullied but children who are more prone are those who are socially different, who have lower peer acceptance or who are perceived as weaker. The good news is today kids feel more open about speaking about bullying, but not everybody is willing to do that. Those are the kids we see with depression-like symptoms, who come into clinic where it’s uncovered that they’re getting picked on at school.

What are children feeling when bullied?
They feel deflated and demoralized—their self-esteem has plummeted—and they feel like they can’t tell people. They feel fearful, that if they say or do anything the retaliation will be worse. Interestingly, some of these children become bullies themselves. They feel like this has happened to me and I don’t want to feel like a victim so I will become part of the group. They become aggressive, which leads to suspensions and expulsions and failing grades.

What if the child is bullied via social media?
It’s not like the days when kids said something hurtful and apologized and you shook hands and it was over—there was no social media back then. Now some children and adolescents have horrific experiences that are plastered all over the Internet and Facebook. So not only was the child a victim in his or her personal life, but then he or she has to face the issue publicly and to be harassed about it. People have made attempts on their lives as a result of social media bullying. In those cases parents can press charges because once bullying reaches the airways, it becomes a federal offense. I would encourage parents to make a police report.

What do these children need?
They need to be able to talk about their experiences and feelings, a sense of belonging and being safe, and support in not blaming themselves for the bullying. They want to know there are consequences for the bullies. Also, they need support from both adults and peers.

How do you counsel victims of bullying?
We talk about how they should stand up for themselves and how to be good friends, and how difficult both of those things can be. We work with parents, school administrators and teachers to help bullied children feel less isolated and more connected with their peers. We help students find effective ways to be safe, by encouraging them to stay in groups so they’re never put in a situation where they’re alone. Also, we encourage kids who are bullied to use their parents as advocates. Each state department of education has bullying and harassment forms that parents can fill out and submit to their school, which by law has to conduct an investigation and provide feedback. We also identify advocates and other resources in the community.

What can parents do?
Parents need to be vigilant and really pay attention to who their children are. If their child is someone who has always been happy and extroverted and all of a sudden is coming home and isolating himself in his room, shutting down and not wanting to talk about things, then the parents really need to find out why and what has changed. First they need to try and communicate with the child, to let the child know that they are there to keep him safe, and that the conversation is going to stay between them. If the parents need to go to the school, they will do it anonymously and make sure the child is not harmed in any way.

Anything else parents can do?
We encourage them to teach their children safety strategies, such as walking away, going to a teacher, coach or other safe adult, or to a come up with a safe location where there are many people around. We also encourage them to nurture their child’s self-esteem. And we encourage all children to report bullying to their parents, teachers, coaches or administrators.

Should parents engage the bully’s family?
My answer is “no.” Parents should report incidents of bullying to the school administration so that the school can take action, including a proper investigation, which may have outcomes including peer mediation, detention, suspension, and/or expulsion.

Any advice for the bully’s parents?
Parents should be firm and stress to the child that bullying is never okay and set limits on aggressive behavior. Needless to say, they should act as role models and use non-physical discipline.

What can schools do?
I encourage schools to make anti-bullying part of their social-psychological curriculum, in which students sign off on their discipline code of ethics as an enforceable offense. Schools should have zero tolerance for bullying—if you bully we will suspend you, and if you’re caught again, you can be expelled.

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10 Comments

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Lolita November 11, 2013 at 1:42 pm

Also look for signs of fighting. There are situations when a child who is being bullied is not weak, and, therefore, refuses to be bullied and fights back. Because the child is not affraid, and doesn't ask for help, then the situation could be overlooked. The child's defenses could be stronger than the bully, and this is when you have instances of ganging (getting jumped). The child could be viewed as a troubled child or someone who is always fighting, so talk to your children. Just because an authority figure tells you your children is a trouble-maker doesn't mean it's true.

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Mary J November 7, 2013 at 12:51 am

Sad to say that bullying is very common now a days. It is not only in schools but it is in your very own workplace and it is not addressed it is ignored. This should not be but it is 🙁

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Laura Schwartz November 6, 2013 at 3:15 pm

Unfortunately bullying is a behavior that occurs everyday in the workplace. It can really make the work environment toxic to those who are treated so poorly. The behavior of Richie Incognito who bullied Jonathan Martin is an example of how bullying is vastly present and in the least of suspected places of work, even among strong men. I work in an ocupational health setting in California where bullying is pervasive. I see many examples of bullying regularly. I just saw a patient yesterday who complained he was getting intimidating stares from co-workers. He stated he was afraid of running into them so much so that he changed his behavior so that if he saw the co-workers he would immediately walk in a different direction to avoid running in to them even if he had duties to perform. It sometimes changed when he would perform certain duties. The day before another patient complained he was getting threatened by his supervisor for being off work for a work related injury and needed to get back to work sooner than he was ready. In the last few years several female employees complained of being severely admonished by their supervisor in front of co-workers for a minor infraction. These patients were all encouraged to report the behaviors to their human resources department. It's apparent to me we really need a national campaign to increase awareness about the offensiveness of bullying at work, school and home while creating a culture of respect for the feelings of other human beings.

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CAF November 6, 2013 at 9:54 am

Bullying is not limited to children and schools. It is a pervasive, permanent problem that occurs everywhere throughout all walks of life and in all societies. Bullying has never been and will never be adequately resolved among children or adults because both adults and onlooking children are complicit with the behavior of the bully. Does anyone ever step forward and say to the aggressors "Stop that, you're mean, why do you do that?". No. I see cars driving by with "My kid beat up your honor student" bumper stickers. To end bullying among children and everywhere else, we (the onlookers) must stop tolerating bad behavior. Our society is very much "don't get involved" so bullying will continue unabated everywhere.

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Dawn November 6, 2013 at 7:49 am

My son often gets bullied at school by others who insult him and make inappropriate comments. He tells the teachers as he has been instructed but he is ignored because the teacher didn't see or hear it (his word against mine). This discourages him and the frustration builds up and he later explodes then is punished for it while the bully's walk away. I have spoken with the admin and some teachers, and it seems there is no communication amongst the staff as I am assured occurs, So when contacting and reporting to the school doesn't help, then what.

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Janet Anderson November 6, 2013 at 12:07 pm

Jami Margolis will be responding to your question.

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Jami Margolis, LCPC November 6, 2013 at 12:39 pm

If the bystander feels safe, they can tell the bully to STOP. Often if the person who is doing the bullying is not getting positive attention, often, he/she will stop what they are doing. It is most important that children and adults only use method if they feel safe in doing so. If the bully poses a physical threat, the best option would be to find help. Witnessess to bullying may calmly walk away from a bullying incident and go find help. This can be done discreetly and the bystander out of harm’s way.

Another strategy could be using a cell phone to call or text for help. If your child is a bystander and has direct access to a cell phone, tell them that they can always call or text an adult and ask for help. This keeps them from having to directly confront the bully, and gives them a way to help the victim.

Sometimes the best way to get involved in a bullying incident is to be a friend to victims. Give your child ideas on how to be a friend to the victim. This might mean walking to class together, sitting with them at lunch and inviting them to social events.

Jami Margolis, LCPC November 6, 2013 at 12:47 pm

Dawn,
As mentioned in the article~ Each state department of education has bullying and harassment forms that parents can fill out and submit to their school, which by law has to conduct an investigation and provide feedback. I would strongly advise to go to the head of your local school board and submit a bullying and harassment form.
Below is the link for the form used within the State of Maryland
http://www.bcps.org/offices/sss/pdf/Harassment-or-Intimidation-(Bullying)-Reporting-Form.pdf

Jami

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Janet November 5, 2013 at 3:15 pm

How should a friend of a child who is being bullied intervene, for example at the time he or she is being bullied?

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christine gedansky November 6, 2013 at 12:05 pm

I think the friend should help immediately remove the bullied person from the situation and go to teacher/authority so there is the bullied person and a witness present. If they don't feel safe to say, "That's SO not cool." and walk away, they could make excuse that they "have to report to teacher for a meeting about a project they are working on. If they are late, the teacher will wonder what's up."

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