Bullying is a common experience for many children and adolescents. Surveys indicate that as many as half of all children are bullied at some time during their school years, and at least 10% are bullied on a regular basis.
Bullying behavior can be physical or verbal. Boys tend to use physical intimidation or threats, regardless of the gender of their victims. Bullying by girls is more often verbal, usually with another girl as the target. Bullying also occurs in online chat rooms, through e-mail and on social networking sites.
Children who are bullied experience real suffering that can interfere with their social and emotional development, as well as their school performance. Some victims of bullying have even attempted suicide rather than continue to endure such harassment and punishment.
Children and adolescents who bully thrive on controlling or dominating others. They have often been the victims of physical abuse or bullying themselves. Bullies may also be depressed, angry or upset about events at school or at home.
If you suspect your child is bullying others, it's important to seek help for him or her as soon as possible. Without intervention, bullying can lead to serious academic, social, emotional and legal difficulties. Talk to your child's pediatrician, teacher, principal, school counselor, or family physician. If the bullying continues, they should receive an evaluation from a mental health professional. The evaluation can help you and your child understand what is causing the bullying, and help you develop a plan to stop the destructive behavior.
If you suspect your child may be the victim of bullying, ask him or her to tell you what's going on. You can help by providing lots of opportunities to talk with you in an open and honest way. If your child becomes withdrawn, depressed or reluctant to go to school, or if you see a decline in school performance, additional consultation or intervention may be required. A mental health professional can help your child and family and the school develop a strategy to deal with the bullying. Seeking professional assistance earlier can lessen the risk of lasting emotional consequences for your child.
Adapted from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry “Fact Sheets for Families.”The Maryland State Department of Education engages in numerous anti-bullying efforts, and has a web page for parents on bullying. Click to learn more.