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Family Focus - Bullying: What's everyone talking about?

Family Focus - Bullying: What's everyone talking about?

By Carol Boughner

It's always interesting to see what catches media and research attention in particular seasons. Bullying has captured more attention over the past year. This is a good thing, as bullying is an old problem that doesn't seem to be going away. Has it gotten significantly worse or are we just hearing more about it?

As parents, we want to guide our children to be empathetic with other children. But we also want to teach them when to back down and when to stand up for themselves. Teasing is one thing, but when it leads to bullying and your child is hurting, a parent must get involved.

Bullying can take many forms but usually includes the following behaviors:

• Physical - hitting, kicking, pinching, punching, scratching, spitting or any other form of physical attack. Damaging or taking someone else's belongings may also constitute as physical bullying.

• Verbal - name calling, insulting, making racist, sexist or homophobic jokes, remarks or teasing, using sexually suggestive or abusive language, offensive remarks.

• Indirect - spreading nasty stories about someone, exclusion from social groups, being made the subject of malicious rumors, sending abusive mail, and e-mail and text messages (cyber-bullying).

• Cyber Bullying - any type of bullying that is carried out by electronic medium.

Kids bully for many reasons. Some bully because they feel insecure. In other cases, kids bully because they simply don't know that it's unacceptable to pick on kids who are different. In some cases, bullying is a part of an ongoing pattern of defiant or aggressive behavior. These kids are likely to need help learning to manage anger and hurt, frustration, or other strong emotions. They may not have the skills they need to cooperate with others. Professional counseling can often help them learn to deal with their feelings, curb their bullying, and improve their social skills.

Some kids who bully are copying behavior that they see at home. Kids who are exposed to aggressive and unkind interactions within the family often learn to treat others the same way. And kids who are on the receiving end of taunting learn that bullying can translate into control over children they perceive as weak.

What are the signs that your child is being bullied? If your child becomes withdrawn, depressed or reluctant to go to school, or if you see a decline in school performance, the parent should intervene. A professional can help your child and family and the school develop a strategy to deal with the bullying. Seeking professional assistance earlier can lessen the risk of lasting emotional consequences for your child.

Many schools are becoming even more sensitive to the issue of bullying in school and are sponsored anti-bullying programs and initiatives to alert students to the warning signs, and encourage them to speak out if they experience bullying, or even if they witness someone else being bullied. With the help of our schools and diligence on the part of parents, the problem of bullying can be greatly diminished.