More than one out of every five students report being bullied, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics. October is national bullying prevention month and UC Davis adolescent medicine physician Laura Kester has prepared some helpful tips for families to help them identify and combat bullying behaviors.
“Bullying is not a rite of passage. It’s not acceptable and it’s not cool,” said Kester. “Parents should understand that bullying can have severe consequences that can result in mental health concerns, substance abuse, school and academic problems.”
Q: What types of behaviors fall under the category of bullying?
LK: You can divide bullying into three categories. There’s physical and verbal bullying, but there is also social behaviors, which can include exclusion (leaving someone out, telling others not to be their friends) and access of embarrassing information (spreading rumors or embarrassing someone in public).
Q: Which adolescents are at highest risk of being bullied?
LK: Girls have higher risks of being bullied. The prevalence of bullying appears to decrease as one's age increases so younger adolescents are at greatest risk. Sexual minority youth, who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender are at greater risk of victimization, both in person and online. In addition, adolescents with disabilities or those who are obese or overweight are also at increased risk.
Q: Where are the places parents should monitor for bullying?
LK: It’s important to remember that bullying isn’t always physical, but can be verbal and social as well. The majority of bullying happens at school, but it can take place on the way to school or online (better known as cyberbullying).
Q: How is cyberbullying different from traditional bullying?
LK: Cyberbullying can include things like harassing messages, threats, and intimidation techniques, disbursing of private or embarrassing information online. Bullies can impersonate victims online to damage reputations or friendships. Cyberbullying spreads more quickly than bullying, has access to a much wider audience and can potentially remain online permanently. Perpetrators can often remain anonymous. The effects of cyber bullying can be as bad, if not worse, than traditional bullying.
Q: What are some potential long term outcomes of bullying?
LK: Those who engage in bullying or are bullied have the highest risks for negative outcomes including increased anxiety and depression, increased risk of suicide, increased substance abuse and decreased academic achievement.
Q: What are signs that parents should be looking out for?
LK: Depression/suicidality, social withdrawal, anxiety, low self-esteem, sleep disturbance and persistant or recurring abdominal pain or headache.
Q: How can a pediatrician help?
LK: Pediatricians can talk with young patients about bullying and assist with early identification of bullying. They can help to identify support for the victim and can assist with counseling and resources to decrease the impact of bullying. They can also provide guidance for parents about signs to monitor for bullying as well as intervention strategies.
Q: What is your take home message?
LK: Parents should educate themselves and their children on what bullying can look like. I encourage parents to communicate with their children and together monitor for signs or concerns of bullying and remember that their pediatrician can be an important resource to address any concerns that they may have.