In books and movies, the school bully is a stock character, instantly recognizable to anyone who has ever been a student. Some are physically bigger than the rest of their classmates, while others occupy the higher levels of a school’s social strata. These characters are easy to write about, easy to recognize, and easy for the reader or audience to dislike. However, in the real world, school bullies might be harder to identify. Here are a few of the signs of bullying:
What Parents Should Look For
Is your child being bullied? It’s often hard to tell because many times you’re the last person to know. Children can be masterful at hiding the part of their lives that happens outside of the home, and without clear signals, you may not be aware that a bully is making their life difficult at school. Fortunately, there are some signs of bullying that can be observed. Some might be:
- Unexplained injuries
- Lost or destroyed clothing or belongings
- Frequently feeling sick/avoiding school
- Changes in eating or sleeping habits
- Declining grades
- Avoidance of social situations
If you notice one or more of these signs in your child, dig a little deeper by asking questions, both of your child and your child’s teacher or guidance counselor. Be prepared, however, to meet with resistance from your child. If he or she is determined to “handle it alone,” chances are you’ll have a difficult time getting information out of them. School personnel can be as equally in the dark as you are, as well.
Why Students Don’t Ask for Help
Even when we recognize the signs of bullying, it can be difficult to get a child to open up about what they are experiencing.
Part of the work of parenting is teaching our children to resolve their own conflicts. It’s a lesson many take to heart, to the point of feeling as if they must solve all problems on their own. Bullying is a frightening event, and many are silent about it because they are trying to figure out what to do. Other reasons bullied students don’t speak up could include:
- Feeling helpless
- Fearing backlash from the bully’s peer group
- Feeling humiliated
- Feeling socially isolated
- Fearing being rejected by their peers
More than 20% of students report being bullied. However, more than 60% of students who are bullied never report it. Clearly, if we are to help bullied students, we must give them better tools to combat it.
What If My Child is the Bully?
For some parents, their child is not the bullied, but the bully. While it’s hard to think that your child might be the one being the aggressor with classmates, there are signs to look for.
- Physical or verbal fights, especially those that seem to escalate
- Friends who bully others
- Unexplained new belongings
- Placing blame on others
- Worry about their own popularity and climbing the social ladder
If you see any of these signs, or if you are contacted by the school about your child’s behavior, take immediate action. Find out what is going on with your child. Are they retaliating against a bully themselves? Do they feel the only way to maintain their social status is to bully others? Do they feel insecure, jealous, or angry? Teasing out the root cause of the bullying behavior can take time but is absolutely essential for stopping it.
Involving the School
Even though it seems schools have had bullies since the beginning of time, the stakes are much higher now. Students, teachers, and administrators are all under a tremendous amount of pressure to perform, and such an environment can allow bullying to go unchecked. Making the school aware of bullying is a first step, but not the only one. Focusing on positive behaviors, teaching empathy and compassion, and empowering students to stand up against bullying should be ongoing for all students in all schools, all year long.
Do you recognize the signs of bullying in a student in your life? Regardless if you are a parent, teacher, or another student, you have the power to make it stop. Speak up, speak out, and help to put an end to bullying.