Bullying and Children

Bullying has always been part of childhood, but the recent spread of computers has updated this age-old problem. In the past, children were safe from bullies once they reached their front doors, but now problems can reach right into the home, as the recent case of the Irish girl, Phoebe Prince, who committed suicide after a non-stop harassment campaign by nine thugs proved.

How can you reduce bullying and keep your child safe? Here are a few tips. Secrecy is a bully’s best friend. As scriptures have it: “Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them;” Ephesians 5:11, New American Bible Translation. Not only is it okay to “tell” sometimes its obligatory. Children have to be taught the difference between tattling and self-protection.

Most of the worst evils, such as bullying, drug use, and sexual abuse require a curtain of darkness. Expose them to light, and the power shifts from abuser to victim. Encourage your children to speak openly to you about what is going on in their lives. Teachers, doctors and many other professionals have an obligation to act. If your child is uncomfortable speaking to you, he may want to reach out to a teacher, priest, other family member or physician. Don’t be defensive if he does.

Remind your child that Facebook, Myspace and other social media only have as much power as he lets them have. There is no need to obsessively review everything a vicious person says.

 Users can be blocked, accounts disabled. Parents can review what is said and address inappropriate comments with parents, school officials or in worst cases, police or District Attorney if language veers from merely nasty to criminal. There are worse ideas than positioning the family computer right in the middle of the action. The child may find studying somewhat more challenging, but he is less likely to be cyberstalked or bullied.

Children should be reminded that distance may mean cruelty. When your child uses a computer, he may be more aggressive because he is not looking the victim in the eye. Remind him that actions have consequences, and that he should remember he is interacting with a person, not a computer.

Pay attention when teachers complain that your child is bullying others. In one case a cycle of bullying ended with a child paralyzed and another institutionalized. When fights break out, seek information. Do not immediately fly to the defense of your chick. You may be encouraging behavior that will lead to ostracism, injury, or worse.

Although teaching basic self-defense may be necessary, don’t live your life through your child. The toughest child may not be a “winner.” Instead he may be expelled or jumped by several of his former victims. You will achieve better results by teaching children how to discuss their differences and negotiate solutions.

In the worst instances, a change of pace may be necessary. Sometimes very dangerous cliques can form and the only way to be free of them may be to take the child out of that environment and give him a fresh start in a new school.

Although bullying is a normal part of childhood and some jockeying for social position is necessary, it should not be accepted or dismissed. Instead, the situation should be addressed promptly.