Bullying, a phenomenon so common in today's society, is also gaining ground among children, especially as the frequency of using technology that encourages online activity turns bullying into cyberbullying.
How can we prevent and take action against bullying? Find out in the following lines what the theoretical background is, what the studies say and what the experts in the field recommend.
What is BULLYING?
In the American Psychological Association Dictionary (APA Dictionary), bullying is defined as threatening and aggressive behavior that is persistent or may take the form of verbal abuse directed at other people in another vulnerable situation.
It also refers to cyberbullying, which is also bullying but located in an online environment, cyberbullying or threatening behavior via electronic technology such as mobile phones, emails, and text messages.
SURVEY: 6 out of 10 children aged 2 to 14 were physically bullied through physical punishment between 2005-2013
UNICEF data from nationally representative surveys conducted in 56 countries between 2005-2013 show that around 6 out of 10 children aged 2 to 14 have been physically bullied through corporal punishment. On average, 17% of children have experienced severe physical punishment.
TYPES OF BULLYING
We can speak of the existence of several types of bullying, which makes it easier to recognize and categorize it. Here are the typology of this phenomenon and some examples we have seen, which can help us to explain it to children.
Physical bullying or physical harassment is perhaps one of the most obvious forms. It comes in the form of blows to the victim. Whether it is punching, slapping, pushing, or breaking and damaging material goods, these are signs of physical bullying. We can also speak of a form of verbal bullying, which starts with teasing, followed by harsh and denigrating remarks about the victim. Over time, this type of bullying can lead to emotional abuse and impact mental health.
Last but not least, a new form of bullying that has emerged as a result of technological developments is cyberbullying. The internet has given malicious people the opportunity to interact quickly and easily with other people, turning them into victims. More than 59% of teenagers experience online attacks. However, they are not the only ones targeted when it comes to this type of bullying. Mean comments on social media or threatening messages are just two examples of cyberbullying experienced even by adults.
Read more about Cyberbullying
Cyberbullying is the intentional use of information by an individual or group to harass/threaten/intimidate one or more individuals online or using technological means. Attacks can vary in form ("body shaming", "hate speech", "professional sabotage" appealing to the sexual appearance and integrity of the individual, threats of sexual violence, and "cyberstalking"), but the main purpose is to highlight a power imbalance between the aggressor and the victim.
Cyberbullying is recognized as a serious threat not only to people's physical health but also to their emotional well-being. Despite awareness of this serious challenge, it seems that the problem continues to grow unless a conscious effort is made to stop it and the relevant authorities are involved.
It is important that we, as adults, inform ourselves correctly so that we can direct the child towards appropriate behavior that does not encourage the development of the phenomenon in any situation, whether we are talking about the child as a bystander, aggressor, or victim.
Harmful effects of bullying
- Aggression and violence harm education. In this context, the pupil-victim may have the following characteristics:
- fear of going to school;
- general nervousness;
- refusal to go to school;
- the pupil may begin to acquire various weapons to defend him/herself against bullying;
- the pupil's physical and mental health is visibly affected;
- the physical appearance may show signs of the violence suffered;
- self-esteem also undergoes significant changes;
- the pupil may resort to ingesting various substances prohibited by law in response to the aggression suffered;
- the appearance of digestive and psychomotor disorders;
- school drop-out and even juvenile delinquency in the context of bullying repeated over long periods;
- panic attacks, somatic reactions, depression, and even suicide attempts (Berkowitz, 1989; Henry, 2000).
The folks at Save the Children, help us to see what we can do as parents when we observe or suspect bullying behavior, is an open discussion with the child, whether victim, bully, or bystander. Some questions you can ask to start a discussion are:
- Do you know what bullying means?
- Do you know how to tell if someone is just being mean to you or is bullying?
- Has someone at school made you feel weak, powerless, or ugly?
- Do you ever get mean to other kids just for fun?
- Have you and other children made fun of someone smaller or weaker? How did you feel then?
- Do you feel safe going to school?
- In your group of friends, do you usually use nicknames? Is there anyone who feels offended by your nickname?
UNICEF recommendations on bullying
UNICEF talks about the importance of preventing of these phenomena and shows us 8 steps that can help us manage these situations with children.
- The first step to keeping your child in a safe context, whether it's a physical or online conflict, is to make sure they know the problem they are facing.
- Explain to your child the phenomenon of bullying and cyberbullying, as well as the causes and effects that occur. Once they know what bullying is, children will be able to identify it more easily, whether it's happening to them or someone else.
- Talk openly and frequently with your child about it. If you tell them openly about bullying, your child will feel comfortable telling you if they notice it in their community or if they encounter it.
- Check your child's schedule daily and ask about their time at school, as well as online activities, asking not only about their classes and activities, but also about their feelings and emotional state.
- Encourage your child to be a positive role model. There are three parties involved in bullying, as mentioned above: the victim, the bully, and the bystander. Even if children are not victims of bullying, they can prevent bullying by being inclusive, respectful, and kind to their peers. If they witness bullying, they can stand up for the victim, offer support, and/or question bullying behavior.
- It helps to develop the child's self-confidence. Encourage them to join classes or activities they enjoy in their community. This will also help to build confidence, and form a group of friends with common interests.
- Be a role model. Show your child how to treat other children and adults with kindness and respect by doing the same with those around you. Children look to their parents as role models, including in online behavior.
- Be part of their online experience. Familiarise yourself with the platforms your child uses and explain how the online and offline worlds relate. Warn him about the different risks he will face in the digital space.
Regardless of the type of bullying, adults, whether teachers or parents, need to take action. Children, whether they are bullies, victims, or just witnesses, may not realize at an early age the impact this phenomenon can have. It is essential to be alert to any warning signals, to investigate and act to manage and reduce bullying.