Bullying can take many forms. It can be physical, mental, social, or it can even be carried out virtually through cyberbullying. And with more than 70 percent of young people experiencing bullying in schools, it's also a widespread issue.
But as common as it is, it's not often easy to spot. Chances are, your child won't come home one day and confess to the bullying. Most likely, you'll have to do some sleuthing and really pay attention to their patterns and changes to take notice.
"Kids are amazing at masking how miserable they are," says Rosalind Wiseman, author of Masterminds and Wingmen: Helping Our Boys Cope With School Yard Power. "But there are some tell-tale signs that parents can notice if their child might be being bullied."
- General mood changes. First and foremost, take notice of your child's behavior. Are they more withdrawn? Moody? Sad? Angry? Any sudden change in behavior could be a sign that some other experiences are interfering with their happiness. A 2012 study shows that bullying changes an actual gene structure and makes children more susceptible to mental health problems and can significantly change their day-to-day interactions. "Any major change is significant," says Jennifer Knack, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Clarkson University. "If they're usually outgoing and now are quiet and want to fade into the background, or if they're normally shy but are now loud and aggressive, that's cause for concern."
- Brand new friends. "If your son or daughter switches friend groups seemingly overnight, that's a cause for concern," says Wiseman. If all of a sudden, your child has dropped friends they've been with for years, or the phone calls have stopped coming in as frequently, it might not just be without cause.
- Unexplained illnesses. A 2013 study completed by doctors at the University of Padua shows that children who are being bullied are more than twice as likely to report being sick as children who are not bullied. Most times, they have no symptoms of any sickness but will use it as an excuse to avoid going to school.
- Fashion changes. If your child starts dressing in long-sleeved button-downs in the middle of May, or insists on wearing a sweater over her dress, it could be a sign that they're trying to cover up injuries or bruises. "If they're all of a sudden changing their clothes, or wearing long sleeves so as not to draw attention to themselves, it might be a coping mechanism," says Knack.
- A changing report card. After polling 2,300 middle school students, a 2010 study published in the Journal of Early Adolescence showed that students who experienced an increase in bullying had a decreased GPA. So if your A-student comes home with some non-honor roll grades, start to look into the source.
- Major munchies. Big kids and teens are known to be ravenous. They're growing, after all. But if your child suddenly comes home and binge eats, it could be a sign that their lunch has been taken (yes, "give me your lunch money" happens in real life), or they're avoiding the cafeteria.
- Changes in interests. "If they no longer want to be on the softball team, or they want to drop out of the school play, these are major signs of isolation," says Knack. Changes in things they used to enjoy, whether it's an after-school activity or a club, could mean that they're trying to avoid a particular situation.
If you begin to notice several of these instances occurring within a short period of time, it's likely that there's a major cause. "Take a step back," Wiseman says, "and look for quiet opportunities to start the conversation." Support your child and let them know that you're behind them with statements like: "I noticed that you're not hanging out with X and Y. I respect the decisions you're making and I would like to know what the reason is."
More from The Stir: 11 Long-Term Effects of Childhood Bullying
Don't interrogate, however. Choose a peaceful time and start a casual conversation. According to Wiseman, parents should never say, "Are you being bullied? You'd tell me if you're being bullied, right?" Bringing in loaded words like "bully" and "bullied" can automatically make your teen clam up and refuse to speak. Instead, ask open-ended questions that will initiate conversation.
More from The Stir: Your Kid Is a Bully -- Now What?
"Ultimately, it's all about knowing your child," says Knack. "If you notice extreme mood and behavioral changes, it's time to find out what's going on."
Have you or your child ever experienced bullying? How did you deal with it?
Image via © Eric Audras/Onoky/Corbis