The APA defines bullying as “aggressive physical contact, words or actions to cause another person injury or discomfort.” Psychology Today goes further, describing it as a “pattern of deliberately harming and humiliating others. And Stopbullying.gov adds that it “involves a real or perceived power imbalance.”

In our popular consciousness, bullying used to mean Nelson and his gang of thugs on The Simpsons rolling Bart home in a trashcan. Or the countless incarnations most of us have seen in movies and television of anyone small being closed inside their locker. Almost always, the bullying was done by a single individual or a small group (typically male), and as bad as it was, the victim could escape his or her tormentors by running home or at least getting away from school.

Real kids in today’s world, though, don’t have the same luxury. With the technological advancements of the last 20 years, bullies are able to continue harassing their prey 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Kids are bullied via text message and through nasty posts on their social media profiles. Bullies can send emails and harass them in chat rooms. Some even go so far as to upload embarrassing photos or videos or create entire websites devoted to making fun of someone.

It’s important to know how far-reaching bullying can become because far too often adults can feel like kids are “safe” when they’re home or engaged in certain activities, but it’s just not true. Severe instances of bullying touch practically every part of a victim’s life, and he or she can end up feeling like there’s no escape.

Types of Bullying

Experts at bullying organizations divide bullying into four different types: physical bullying, verbal bullying, covert or social bullying, and cyber bullying.

Physical bullying is exactly what it sounds like, and it’s probably the type that we’re most familiar with. It involves any kind of aggressive contact, including hitting, kicking, pushing, and pinching, as well as property damage and stealing personal items from another person.

Verbal bullying, too, is fairly self-explanatory. Taunting, name-calling, threatening, and just generally using words to make someone else feel bad are all ways that someone can be verbally abused. Racial slurs and homophobic remarks are also included under this type of bullying.

Covert or social bullying. This kind of bullying occurs when a group of people work together to make someone feel like an outsider. They might be made the butt of unflattering rumors, feel like everyone is deliberately ignoring them, laughing at them, or making rude or menacing gestures, or find themselves excluded from games and other important events. Bullying such as this is sometimes called covert because the person or people instigating the behavior won’t necessarily harass their victim directly, but instead encourage others to engage in ostracizing behavior.

Cyber bullying has already largely been defined above, and depends more on the medium than the specific kinds of actions taken against a victim. It involves any kind of harassment or bullying that takes place using digital technologies such as mobile phones or the internet, and can be overt, covert, social, verbal, written, and more. Probably the worst thing about cyber bullying is that it can feel like there is nowhere to go to escape it, and if someone posts something embarrassing about you to the world, there’s little you can do to get rid of it.

Read more about how educators can handle cyberbullying in this article.

How to Handle Being Bullied

The National Education Association’s website has a number of horrifying statistics about bullying in America, including the fact that 79 percent of boys and 83 percent of girls say that they’ve had to deal with harassment in school, and 60 percent of teens report that they see some kind of bullying going on at least once a day.

Bullied kids say that they’re afraid of riding the bus, going to the bathroom, and even going to school at all. In fact, the National PTA website says that every day 160,000 children are so afraid of going to school that they stay home. It’s the kind of fear that causes physical distress and hampers kids’ ability to learn in class. On the one hand, it’s terrible that so many kids out there are suffering. But if you’re the victim of bullying yourself, all of this information should means two important things: bullying is a serious problem that needs to be dealt with and you are not alone.

So, how do you deal with being bullied? You may not feel like it but you have a number of options available to you depending on the nature of the bullying and your own personality.

Avoid them. This isn’t a suggestion to skip class or stay home from school entirely but if you know your bully takes a specific route or eating in a certain place, do what you can to keep from running into them.

Stand up for yourself. A bully’s power is in making you feel small and bad about yourself, but many times they don’t know how to react when their victims actually stand their ground and refuse to be cowed. Be careful before taking this action, though, because it can cause some bullies to redouble their efforts to “break you” if you embarrass them by not backing down.

Ignore them. In the same way that bullies can be surprised when you stand up for yourself, many are just as confused when you don’t give them the reaction they want. Pretending that their actions have no effect on you whatsoever—that they don’t matter—is a great way to stop teasing in its tracks.

Use the buddy system. Bullies are far less likely to harass people travelling in groups, so try to come up with a schedule to make sure that you’re always around a few friends.

Talk to someone. Most kids don’t want to tell adults when they are being bullied but this is a mistake. In fact, bullies count on victims not telling adults as part of their strategy. As long as no one with more power than them is involved, they can keep doing what they’re doing. Don’t feel bad for the bully. What they are doing is serious and wrong, and getting an adult to stop their behavior may even help them in the long run.

Start an anti-bullying program. If you don’t want to talk to an adult and “out” a bully directly, talk to someone about starting an anti-bullying program. Some schools have eliminated or greatly minimized the culture of bullying by creating “bully-free zones” and working to educate teachers and students about the dangers of bullying so that they’re more willing to get involved when they see harassing behavior.

How to Help if Your Child is Being Bullied

Different parents have different reactions to learning that their child might be experiencing bullying. Some may believe that the bullying is a way to “toughen them up” and “show them how it is in the real world.” Others might become so enraged that they want to confront the bullies themselves or may push their children to fight back.

These options are rarely the right way to handle bullying. It’s much better to try to calm yourself down and take the middle ground—show concern but try to find ways to solve the problem that don’t involve physical or verbal altercations. Here are some suggestions that experts recommend.

Talk about bullying. One of the best ways to help your bullied child is to simply talk about bullying. Not about their bully specifically or the trouble they’re going through, but why bullying happens, how bullies typically work, and what they can do to make it stop and help others. They also need to understand that victims are never to blame for bullying because far too many of them can feel guilt and even become depressed. Educating your child in this way arms them with information that they can use to solve their problem.

Make yourself available to your child. A lot of kids won’t be comfortable coming to their parents for help for a variety of reasons, so it’s important that you do everything you can to show them that talking to you about a problem is something safe. Make sure they know that you care and that you’re willing to listen no matter what, but don’t press them for information or they might retreat further into themselves.

Document everything. If there are records of your child being bullied, as is often the case with cyber bullying, holding on to the evidence is vital. School authorities will often want proof if you go to them with accusations, and the court will certainly need it if it gets to the point that you need to make it a legal matter. Just as importantly, hanging on to things like emails can really help if your son or daughter is being targeted by anonymous bullies, because authorities sometimes use that information to track down the culprit.

Go to officials. Letting bullying go too far can lead to all kinds of potential physical and psychological damage, and sometimes you have little recourse other than to go to school officials to get it stopped. Meetings like this can go one of two ways—you can focus solely on the problem your child is having and demand that action is taken against the bullies, or you can work with them to start programs that educate their student body about bullying and seek to curb it in the school.

What Teachers Can Do About Bullying

Experts have found that comprehensive programs in the school are the most effective and efficient way to change the culture of bullying. Teachers and administrators, obviously, play a key role in this process because they are on the front lines just as much as parents are—if not more. Which strategies are known to work?

Raise awareness. When teachers notice that bullying is a problem, one of the best things they can do to solve the problem is to use their platform to talk about it and educate students. All too often, bullied kids feel like they’re alone and that no one will be willing to help them, but talking about it can change that. Encourage bullied students to seek help, and for those who witness bullying to speak out about it. Let them know that bullies can’t intimidate everybody if they work together against them.

Keep an eye out. Sometimes teachers can ignore the signs of bullying because they’re too caught up in their own classes or simply trying to make it through the day. Unfortunately, this kind of “blind-eye” attitude is exactly what allows bullying to continue. If you want to stop bullying, you need to pay attention to how your students are treating each other and watch for students who seem to need help. Talk to other teachers and administrators, too, so that everyone is on the same page and knows where potential problems may come from.

Assert your authority. It’s one thing to watch for trouble, but another to actively step in and stop it. Most bullies are smart enough not to do their worst in front of authority figures but if you see bullying going on, it’s important that you keep it from happening and punish the bully. They need to know that what they’re doing is unacceptable and that you’re not going to let them get away with it. When the situation calls for it, bullies should be made to go through counseling to better manage their anger and other emotions.

Above all, the best way to put a stop to bullying is to let it be known that it won’t be tolerated and then follow those words up with actions that prove them. The only real way to stamp out bullying is with a concerted effort that changes the culture and gets everyone involved—teacher, parents, and students.

Resources

Apa.org

PsychologyToday.com

StopBullying.gov

National Centre Against Bullying

StampOutBullying.co.uk

NEA.org

PTA.org

KidsHealth.org

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