Now that school is out and the children of Cavalier County are free to enjoy their summer break, one issue that usually comes up during the school year that parents may not be thinking about this summer is bullying.
By Melissa Anderson
Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior that usually occurs among school-aged children, typically between 5th and 9th grade, that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.
“I have only seen instances of bullying a couple times in our school,” Barb Boesl, the counselor for St. Alphonsus Catholic School and a licensed clinical counselor with Catholic Charities, stated.
“It’s out there more than that, but it’s not always brought to an adult’s attention,” Boesl added.
Bullying most often occurs when there are not any adults around or where the concentration of kids to adults makes keeping track of children harder. Places such as parks, pools, or other similar locations where adult supervision is minimal to none are prime locations for bullying to occur. Boesl notes that these types of situations are also reflective of the age groups where bullying most often happens.
“Kids in the 5th grade age are beginning to hang out by themselves with no direct adult supervision which is also indicative of the age groups that bullying usually occurs,” Boesl stated.
Boesl explained that what has been found to be most effective in combatting and stopping bullying is positive peer pressure. When a peer witnessing the bullying stands up to the situation and states that the behavior is not OK, the results are more likely to be long lasting.
“Peer pressure can be used in a good way, and if we can have someone who is higher in the social status call it out and stop it, that is most effective,” Boesl explained.
Cavalier County Extension Agent Macine Lukach agrees that when youth stand up to the bully, it can be a great help to those being bullied.
“Youth against bullying should speak up when they see bullying; reach out to others who are bullied and be a friend whenever they see bullying,” Lukach said.
Lukach had some tips for youth when dealing with bullying situations. The best way to handle a bully is to talk, walk and tell.
• Tell the bully how it makes you feel. Tell the bully to stop.
• Don’t fight or argue. A bully wants you to get upset. So it’s best to leave before things get out of hand.
• Report the bully to a trusted adult.
“When you talk, walk and tell you are standing up for yourself. You’re showing that you respect yourself and others,” Lukach said.
For adults who come across instances of bullying Boesl states that simply speaking up and addressing the children can put a stop to it. In a situation where the children are unknown but the aggression is apparent, speaking up is still necessary in stopping the situation before it escalates.
“Even if the situation is one that the kids seem to be okay with, pointing out the inappropriate behavior is still important to make sure it stops,” Boesl added.
At pools, where kids playing can sometimes turn into a bullying situation, it is important for kids to know that they should trust the lifeguards there enough to tell them when normal play turns into bullying.
“Trusting authority figures at public locations is important, and if those figures do not understand, continue to seek help by telling other authority figures,” Boesl advises.
While acknowledging and addressing bullying is important, it can sometimes be hard to identify. Kids who are the victims of bullying often show similar signs of the stress, but parents need to remember that this may not always be the case. Some signs are:
• Changes in behavior such as no longer wanting to go to the pool when it used to be their favorite activity.
• Coming home with unexplainable injuries.
•Their things such as clothing, jewelry, toys, etc are missing or damaged.
• Lack of confidence or self-esteem.
For parents, the best thing they can do to combat bullying in both its forms of being the victim and bully is to have a strong relationship with their children. Boesl notes that staying actively involved in your child’s life is vital to being able to help them not only in their social development but also in being the safe place for them to turn to when they are confronted with something challenging like bullying.
“Having a strong sense of self and self worth starts with parents. Children need to have a place where they feel safe and also a feeling of belonging within their families,” Boesl explained. “In the same sense, without a strong sense of self and self worth, the child can become a bully seeking the praise and acceptance they are missing at home.”
Lukach added that parents of both victims and bullies can best help their children by modeling the behavior that is acceptable.
“Promote honesty and ask questions. Listen with an open mind, and focus on understanding your child and allow children to express how they feel. Treat a child’s feelings with respect. Set a good example by showing them a healthy temperament and settle conflicts by talking things out peacefully,” Lukach said.
If your child is being bullied, the best thing a parent can do is to take action by encouraging your child to talk about what is happening. They may be resistant at first but being persistent about finding out what is going on is important. Once your child opens up, it is just as important to not overreact.
“Hear your child out, and listen to them. Then come up with a plan,” Boesl shared. “Maybe get the parents and kids together to talk about what is going on.”
With the advent of computers, cell phones, and social media platforms has come a new way for bullying to take place. Cyber bullying has become a big issue over the last several years. Examples of cyber bullying include mean text messages or emails, rumors sent by email or posted on social networking sites, and embarrassing pictures, videos, websites, or fake profiles.
Kids who are being cyber bullied are often bullied in person as well. Additionally, kids who are cyber bullied have a harder time getting away from the behavior in this technology driven age.
Cyber bullying messages and images can be posted anonymously and distributed quickly to a very wide audience. It can be difficult and sometimes impossible to trace the source and to make cyber bullying even worse. Deleting the inappropriate or harassing messages, texts, or pictures is extremely difficult after they have been posted or sent.
Bullying can have both short and long term effects on the victims and the bullies. Those who are bullied may become depressed or violent and even consider suicide. Bullying can affect a person’s self-worth, and it could hinder them from trying new things and taking risks such as trying out for something.
Those that bully face possible legal or disciplinary actions against them, and in the long term may develop legal or substance abuse problems. Stopping the behavior before it can snowball is extremely important.
Lukach provided the following tips on how parents can address their child’s behavior with the most important being that when you discuss, parents need to stay calm and focus on solutions.
• Never excuse the behavior.
• Work with your child on understanding the feelings of others. One way to do this is to talk about their own feelings.
• Being a good role model by treating and speaking to others with respect and kindness.
• Monitor your child’s use of the internet.
• Set consequences for any future acts of bullying.
Lukach has a few programs on bullying available to schools such as “Take A Stand” and “I-Respect”.
“I also have a Character Counts program. I believe if everyone lived by the pillars of character – trustworthiness, fairness, caring, respect, responsibility and citizenship – bullying would be greatly reduced, “ Lukach said.
Lukach also has material for parents that range in topics from cyber bullying to the more common face to face bullying. For more information please contact her at 256-2560