It's the scourge of the modern education system. No, not bad teachers. Bad kids. Bullies. The monsters who popped into your head as you opened that class reunion invite have come a long way from boys' bathroom swirlies and wedgies under the monkey bars. Every 7 minutes an American kid is bullied. At school. After school. On the computer.
And your kid could be one of them.
The bullies that is. Don't kid yourself, parents, with 77 percent of kids reporting some sort of bullying, even our little angels are part of the problem. It's pure statistics. Bullies can just as easily come in smiling packages that always help empty the dishwasher and take out the trash as in the body of a hulking beast with an attitude problem and the ability to shove you in a locker. So how do you know if your kid is a bully? Shouldn't we just let kids work things out on their own?
No, no, no says Dr. Michael Osit, a licensed psychologist and author of Generation Text: Raising Well Adjusted Kids in an Age of Instant Everything. "If parents are aware of the bullying and don't do anything, they are as guilty as their child who is bullying. A bystander, whether they be a teacher, parent, or even another child, is enabling the bullying to continue and are guilty as well.
Stepping in, the New Jersey-based doc says, isn't just about protecting a child who is suffering at the hands of a bully, but protecting your own child too. That's because there's usually a reason behind a kid's decision to take on the bully role to begin with. Check out Dr. Osit's list of "psychological and/or social factors" that can cause a child to bully to see if your child fits the profile:
1. Low self-esteem. So bullying becomes a way to boost their own low self-worth by putting someone else down.
2. Family or sibling issues. Sometimes bullying is an expression of anger or frustration caused by a family problem. Sometimes it becomes a pecking order, from older siblings teasing and tormenting the child, who then transfers that to a peer.
3. Bullying also occurs as a way to establish and maintain social status with peers. This generation of kids is acutely aware of their social world. Much more than previous generations. I think this is one of the reasons, along with the 24/7 access and feeling of anonymity due to technology, that bullying is so much more of an issue today.
4. Another reason kids bully is because they feel emotionally or psychologically threatened by a youngster who may be different from them. The difference -- sexual orientation, racial, appearance, music, dress, etc. -- poses as an emotional threat to the bully who is very insecure about their own identity. So, to deal with the feeling of confusion or anxiety, they demean another child.
Still not sure? Osit says there are "many more signs exhibited by the youngster being bullied than there are for the actual bully," but here's what to look out for if you suspect your child might be the problem:
1. If they are present, parents will hear subtle negative statements about a specific "group" such as the "nerds" or "gamers" or "skaters."
2. A more blatant indicator is if they are verbalizing hate statements about a specific child, or statements to the effect, "Everyone hates John."
3. Since bullying no longer is limited to the schoolyard and the school day, cyberbullying is something parents need to watch out for as well. So, they need to closely monitor cellphone, Internet, and social networking sites their child engages in. If they are spending an inordinate amount of time in their social digital world, that could be a sign that they are either bullying or at least engaging in something inappropriate.
4. Another sign that a child is bullying is if he seems to have "a posse." Bullies often have a few weaker underlings that simply follow the bully. Sometimes the bully is mistaken for a "leader" or the popular one that everyone follows.
Now for the good news. Dr. Osit says usually a parent stepping in when their kid is the aggressor is enough to squelch bullying. Do you see any of these signs in your kids? Would you step in?
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