Instead of enjoying childhood, millions of school children today are spiraling into despair due to bullying. For some, like 11-year-old Michael Morones of North Carolina, the pain becomes too much to bear – and suicide seems like the only option.
In January, Michael attempted suicide after peers bullied him for liking the television show “My Little Pony.” Even though the show has gained a huge male audience – called Bronies – and has even inspired a film documentary about the phenomenon, Michael was tormented for being a fan. Although he survived the suicide attempt, Michael suffered severe brain damage and remains hospitalized. If he lives, his family will face ongoing medical expenses and unimaginable sorrow. Please join Charles R. Ullman & Associates and consider donating to a fund dedicated to Michael’s recovery.
Parents Don’t Always Know
Unfortunately, parents aren’t always aware that their children are being targeted by bullies. Experts say kids often hide the fact that they are being bullied because they feel helpless and may want to handle the situation on their own to regain their sense of control. Others don’t tell because they fear retaliation or rejection from their peers, or are simply humiliated and don’t want anyone else to know. Like other victims of abuse, bullied children also may not feel that anyone will understand their circumstances, or even care.
According to the 2008-2009 School Crime Supplement, adults were notified in only one-third of bullying cases that occurred on school property or in school-related activities.
Warning Signs of Bullying
Because children can be so good at masking their anguish, it’s important to look for red flags that may indicate bullying, such as:
- Behavioral changes
- Unexplained injuries
- Lost or damaged clothing or other possessions
- Physical symptoms such as headaches and stomachaches
- Faking sick
- Changes in eating habits/weight gain or loss
- Insomnia or nightmares
- Poor academic performance or test scores
- Withdrawal from activities he or she used to enjoy
- Decreased self-esteem
- Self-destructive behaviors, such as running away
- Talking about suicide or self-harm
Some Kids Are More Likely to Be Targets
Unfortunately, certain types of children are more prone to being bullied than others. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has determined that a key component in evaluating whether a situation can be deemed bullying is that there is an imbalance of power in the relationship between the bully and the child who is being bullied.
That imbalance of power often occurs among children who are:
- Perceived somehow as “different,” such as being overweight or underweight, disabled, not trendy or simply the new kid at school
- Seen as weak or unable to defend themselves
- Anxious, depressed or shy
- Socially isolated
- Do not mix well with others, such as by annoying them or antagonizing them
- LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender)
What You Can Do to Stop Bullying
You can’t always be around to protect your children from bullies. But you can equip them with tools they can use to try to navigate the problem. In some cases, it is worthwhile to allow children the chance to work through a situation on their own.
For example, you could:
- Discuss with your child how to firmly say “Stop!” when the bullying begins.
- Talk about ways to use humor to break the tension, if appropriate.
- Suggest ways to get away from the situation if other methods don’t work, such as walking away or staying near adults or other kids. Bullies are less likely to act if a large group of people are around to witness it.
- Encourage your child to report the bullying to an adult they trust. Be sure to assure them that they are not tattling or being a wimp for telling someone else. Most importantly, tell them it’s essential for them to contact an adult or police officer if they are being threatened with a weapon.
Because your children may not volunteer that they are being bullied, you also can have short, periodic “check-in” sessions with them to give them a chance to tell you what’s going on. Don’t make it a formal inquisition or put them on the spot. Instead, ask general questions about whether they see bullying at their school, what types of kids get bullied and if they have ever known anyone who has been bullied. If your gut tells you that they are holding something back, then you can gently prod them to tell you about their experiences. If they get agitated, back off. But keep your eye closely on the situation, especially if you see warning signs pop up.
Enough is enough. It’s time to help kids learn to love who they see in the mirror.