Bullying (Part I): Establishing Awareness

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Educate yourself about the bully situation that many children are facing today. This article outlines the common types, possible effects, and warning signs of bullying. Click here to leave a response. Part two and three of this series will offer specific ways you can help.
Among the issues plaguing our children today is the predominance and escalation of bullying.  Bullying has pervaded our social media, schools, and youth programs.  Researchers estimate that 20 to 30 percent of school-age children are involved in incidents related to bullying, as either the perpetrators or victims.  Yet these statistics only include reported cases.  We have reason to believe the numbers are much higher than that, closer to 60 to 80 percent.
As individuals who work with children on a regular basis, we need to be aware of the magnitude of bullying, its definition, its warning signs, and its effects.  This particular post will address these specific components.  In future posts, we will focus on intervention for both bullies and their victims, and practical ways to address the subject in your children’s ministry with a proactive stance.
What It Looks Like (Types of Bullying)
As we all know, teasing is an integral part of childhood.  Children find humor in just about anything and many times in their peers. Light hearted teasing ends with each party in hysterics over a silly word spoken, an action, or a shared experience.  However, teasing becomes bullying when it is a repeated aggressive behavior or when there is a conscious intent to hurt another child, physically or mentally.  Bullying involves continual victimization for the purpose of exerting power or force over another individual.
It is said that bullying can begin as early as preschool or kindergarten and extend through college, worsening in the transitional years.  Typically, bullies target children who are more introverted and sensitive than their peers.  Victims can be targeted for any number of reasons:   physical stature, their family’s social status, race, faith, athletic ability, intelligence, and/or low self esteem.  Bullies consider targeted victims to be safe prey, mostly because they do not retaliate and they do not alert trusted adults to the problem at hand.
With younger children, physical bullying may look like shoving, tripping, throwing items, hitting, or making obscene gestures at one person.  As bullies grow older, their actions tend to escalate into more intimidating and humiliating behaviors, including punching, provoking to make a scene, and ganging up on an individual.
Verbal bullying may sound like name-calling, derogatory labeling, threat-making, rumors, gossip, slander, obscenities, ridicule, and cruel jokes. Forms of social media including Facebook, instant messaging, emails, and texts are playgrounds and platforms for verbal bullying.
What Its Effects Are
If your child or a child in your ministry is the victim of a bully, it can have devastating effects on their developing identity.  Children cannot grasp that they are “fearfully and wonderfully made” if a bully is relentlessly attacking them for their unique character qualities. This is a tender and formative age for their sense of self-worth.  If a child is being bullied, he/she will often carry those feelings of inferiority and insecurity with them through adulthood and may even struggle with depression and/or suicide because of them.
Often, a victimized child feels as though he/she deserves such harsh ridicule because of an inherent flaw of some sort.  Instead of reaching out for the help of a trusted adult, the child takes the punishment upon himself/herself because there is a perception that it is deserved.  The child may think, “If only I weren’t so clumsy (or) if only I looked like all the other girls than all of this wouldn’t be happening to me.”
A child may also resist confiding in an adult if the adult showed little concern for past grievences, if the adult urges the child to retaliate with aggression, or if the child feels seriously threatened by their perpetrator.  The child in this case may think, “If I tell someone what he did to me, it’s only going to get worse.”
Though the child may have a hard time confiding in an adult about the repeated acts of physical or verbal aggression, they will most likely be exhibiting symptoms of the problem.  Included here are warning signs of this victimization.
Warning Signs
The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) identifies these possible warning signs for bullying:

  • Child comes home with torn, damaged or missing clothes, books, or belongings
  • Unexplained cuts, bruises, scratches
  • Has few friends, if any
  • Seems afraid to go to school or take part in after-school activities
  • Takes a long “illogical” route when walking to and from school
  • Has lost interest in school work or suddenly begins to do poorly
  • Appears sad, moody, teary, or depressed when he/she comes home
  • Has trouble sleeping and/or frequent bad dreams
  • Experiences a loss of appetite
  • Appears anxious and suffers from low self-esteem
  • Recurrent complaints of physical symptoms such as stomach-aches or headaches with no apparent cause
  • Sudden change in language (calling herself a “loser” or a best friend a “jerk”)

The children in our homes and ministries deserve our awareness in the struggles that they face on a daily basis.  Even if they may not be the targeted victims, they most likely see bullying occur and are at a loss for what to do about it.  It is our responsibility to take the lead on every issue related to this subject.  The first step in tackling the problem is educating ourselves, opening our eyes, and being made aware.
Stop Bullying Now! A resource published by the HRSA
What Do I Do When Teenagers Encounter Bullying and Violence, by Steve Gerali

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