It’s every parent’s worst nightmare – the suspicion, and then realisation, that your child is being bullied.
And while it’s one thing to be aware of bullying, knowing what to do about it is another challenge altogether.
Although some studies suggest that bullying at school may actually be on the decline, any level of bullying can result in devastating consequences.
Recently, we’ve seen the tragic cases of Dolly Everett (14) and Libby Bell (13), two young girls who both took their own lives as a result of bullying. And while not all bullying results in such heart-breaking outcomes, the impacts can nevertheless be very serious, with bullying associated with long-term mental health issues well into adulthood.
Cyber-bullying on the rise
While bullying at school may be falling, online or cyber-bullying is well and truly on the rise, largely driven by increased usage of social media platforms and mobile phones by school-aged children.
A recent study by the Office of the eSafety Commissioner showed the incidence of cyber-bullying, including name-calling, violent threats and even revenge porn, surged by 63 percent in 2017, with children as young as 10 being targeted.
This is backed by figures from Kids Helpline, which showed that cyber-bullying has contributed to a five percent rise in the number of suicide-related calls. Each year, the helpline receives more than seven million calls and webchat messages from or about children and young people.
No matter where you sit, it’s a serious issue for one of the most vulnerable groups in our society. So as a parent, how do you uncover whether your child is being bullied, particularly if they’re fearful of raising the issue with you, and once you know, what can you do about it?
Here’s five common signs to look out for:
- Reluctance to go to school – there are multiple reasons your child may not want to go to school, but if it becomes a regular occurrence, it is worth exploring further. It’s unlikely this will be the only sign, so look for other indications of bullying.
- Moodiness, withdrawal, tension and tears – bullying has a big impact on a child’s emotional state, so if they start to display these signs on a regular basis, then it’s a sign that bullying may be at play.
- Altered sleeping and eating patterns at home – this may include nightmares, a loss of appetite or overeating.
- Poor performance at school – a drop in performance of lack of interest in study may be a sign of bullying, as their focus shifts to the emotional trauma caused by the bullying.
- Being secretive around phone/computer – if your child quickly turns off their phone or computer when you enter the room, or they abruptly walk away from it and seem emotional or agitated, this could be a sign they’re being cyber-bullied. Alternatively, some may avoid using their phone or computer at all at home, another sign that is worth investigating.
It’s one thing to know the signs, but once you suspect bullying, how do you approach the issue with your child? Here’s some tips on how to go about it.
- Open the lines of dialogue – if you suspect your child is being bullied, provide ample opportunities for them to talk to you about it. For example, if they don’t eat their dinner, provide them with an opportunity to talk about why they’re not hungry. Continually provide them with opportunities to confide in you about how they’re feeling. Ask prying questions to try and draw out information.
- Give them strategies to cope – if your child wants to try and deal with the bullying themselves, then provide them with some strategies they can implement. Tactics such as saying ‘no’ firmly, acting confident, unaffected or unimpressed or using strategies to diffuse a situation may help them cope with bullying.
- Talk to the school – if your child won’t open up to you, talk to the school about your suspicions to understand if they’re aware of anything. Making them aware may lead to them uncovering something. If the school contacts you about your child being bullied, stay calm and attempt to work with them to solve the problem. After all, you both have your child’s best interests at heart.
- Avoid further conflict – if your child is the victim of bullying, the last thing you want is to encourage more conflict. Avoid encouraging them to fight back or confronting the other child’s parents, as this may escalate the situation.
- Consider professional help – if you’re aware of bullying and are unsure how to handle the situation, there are many professional resources available that may help you. These may be sourced through your school, the government or searching online. There may be ongoing ramifications for your child from being bullied, so consider seeking professional help from a psychologist to help them with their emotional state.