As we think about the stressors and challenges children face, one important topic we need to focus our attention on is bullying. Children feel pressure to achieve good grades, make and maintain friendships, and do well in the clubs or sports teams they are a part of. If bullying enters the equation, it could have lasting negative consequences on a child’s well-being.
It is first important to define the term: bullying is the use of intentional, repeated aggressive acts against victims who cannot easily defend themselves (Bondu, Rothmund, & Gollwitzer). Victims can experience bullying through physical or verbal interactions, as well as through cyberspace via social media and texting. In looking closer at bullying, it demonstrates a power imbalance between those who bully and those who are victims of bullying.
During childhood, children can become victims of bullying simply by being different or by standing up for others. On average, 41% of children are victims of some form of bullying. Those who are victims of bullying experience school absenteeism, low self-esteem, anxiety, loneliness, and the development of depressive symptoms. The symptoms of these negative experiences do not stop after schooling; some individuals can continue to experience depressive symptoms including psychopathology, suicidality, and criminal behavior, even into adulthood.
As we look at how impactful bullying is on children, not only as they experience it presently, but even into adulthood, it is important to look at what adults can do to support children:
- School Districts: One important place to start would be to take a closer look at the anti-bullying initiative in place within the school district. School districts should work to develop ways to prevent bullying and have a plan in place to do so. Look for ways that the program incorporates a cooperative learning approach between students and administration and allows the students to be a part of the decision-making process in the anti-bullying campaign.
- At Home: Another way we can do this is by supporting children through offering time to talk about school while creating a nonjudgmental space in which they feel safe to share difficult topics.
- Mental Health Services: Finally, seek out mental health services when needed. Sometimes children do not want to share their challenges for fear that it would add stress to their guardians, therefore, finding a trusting and safe mental health counselor that your child would feel comfortable with is an important step to take.
Bullying can be a difficult topic for children and parents to talk about, but the most important thing is supporting children in these moments so that they feel comfortable sharing more difficult moments in their lives.