Bullying and Teasing the Adolescent Years

Bullying. It has become a major concern in today’s society. Many of us have been teased, but bullying can be more serious. While teasing can be good­humored, playful, and friendly, it can also be mean spirited and hostile. Bullying is a repetitive conscious attempt to hurt another individual and can be physical, verbal, or relational. This article focuses on the roles of those involved in bullying situations, different forms of bullying, the warning signs and the effects of bullying, and how to help your child.

The Bully. The bully likes to feel strong, and superior. The bully enjoys having power over others and uses their power to hurt other people. In addition, Bullies “rationalize that their supposed superiority entitles them to hurt someone they hold in contempt, when in reality it is an excuse to put someone down so they can feel up.” (Coloroso, The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander). For example, a bully might say, “He had it coming.”

The Bullied. The person who is the target of bullying (aka, victim). Those who are bullied come in all shapes and sizes, and there is not any one type of individual that is more or less likely to be bullied. The individual can be male, female, overweight, underweight, various skin colors, the most popular person, the least popular person, etc. What those who are bullied have in common is that they were targeted by a bully.

The Bystander. The supporting cast who aid and abet the bully through acts of omission and commission. “They can stand idly by or look away,or they can actively encourage the bully and become one of a bunch of bullies” (Coloroso).

Bullying takes on different forms among boys and girls. Among boys, bullying often occurs among friends or acquaintances. During bullying situations, there are often comments made about the bullied’s athletic ability or status, and the teasing comments are often intended to emasculate the individual. Bullying among boys is more likely to have a physical component. Bullying among girls is more likely to appear as Relational Aggression, occurs between friends, and the focus is often on appearance and possessions. Relational aggression is a more subtle form of aggression that uses relationships to damage or manipulate others through exclusion,ignoring, spreading rumors, verbal insults, teasing, eye rolling, taunting, and cyber­bullying.

When intervening with bullying situations, it is important to intervene with all parties involved including the bully, the bullied, and the bystander. Some ways to help the bully include: Reinforce that teasing and bullying are unacceptable; impose consequences for teasing or bullying; assess why the child is engaging in the behavior (for example is it being modeled at home? among peers?; empathy training; promote appreciation of differences; and praise positive behavior changes.

Some ways to help the bullied may include: listen and be empathetic; help the child understand the bully’s motivation; observe school or family interactions; teach your child coping strategies; and practice assertive communication skills. Coping strategies include positive self­talk, imagery, reframing, agree with the teaser, answer with compliment, and ignoring. The largest number of individuals in a bullying situations are bystanders. When helping bystanders: teach assertive communication; empathy training; promote appreciation of differences; praise positive behavior changes, and break the code of silence by encourage the witnesses to come forward when they see bullying.

Bullying has negative effects on a child’s life. It can cause problems with low self­esteem and depression. When dealing with the issue of bullying it is important to know the different warning sgns of bullying so that help and support could be given to a particular child. Warning signs include: frequent crying; unexplained injuries or bruises; lost or destroyed clothing, books, electronics, or jewelry; frequent headaches or stomach aches, feeling sick or faking illness; changes in eating habits, like suddenly skipping meals or binge eating; difficulty sleeping or frequent nightmares; declining grades, loss of interest in schoolwork, or not wanting to go to school; sudden loss of friends or avoidance of social situations; a sudden change in the way a child talks about herself or himself; feelings of helplessness or decreased self esteem; and self­destructive behaviors such as running away from home, harming themselves, or talking about suicide.

Kids often don’t tell adults they’re bullied so you may have to voice your concerns. Watch the child’s reactions. Often what a child doesn’t say may be more telling. Tune into your child’s body language. Silence is often powerful. If you suspect bullying and your child won’t talk to you, then arrange a conference with a trusted adult who knows your child. If your child has more than one teacher you may need to meet with each educator or coach. Keep in mind that bullying usually does not happen in all school settings and in all classrooms. Meanwhile, keep an eye on your child. Children who are embarrassed or humiliated about being bullied are unlikely to discuss it with their parents or teachers and generally suffer in silence, withdraw and try to stay away from school. Stress to your child you are always available, are concerned and recognize bullying may be a problem. Emphasize that you believe your child and you are there to help. Please seek the help of a trained mental health professional if the signs continue, intensify, or your gut instinct tells you “something is not right with my child!”

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