No matter the time of the school year, kids face pressure to do well in their studies along with the stress that comes with finding themselves and their place in social groups. These are the same stresses we parents faced growing up, but today there is a notable change.
The advent of mobile technology and social media has opened a world that we older generations never had to contend with when we were growing up. While it has created new ways for kids to stay in touch with their friends, it has also opened pathways for the cruelty of bullying.
Online bullying is an incessant problem. More than 43 percent of teens report being bullied online, research shows, with 70 percent of students saying they witness frequent bullying online.
Bullying includes threats, rumors, physical or verbal attacks and excluding somebody from a group on purpose. Cyberbullying includes any kind of bullying that takes place over digital devices through texts, social media, online forums—anyplace where people share content. It includes sending, posting or sharing negative, harmful, false or mean content about someone, including personal or private information that causes embarrassment or humiliation.
Why is online bullying so prevalent? One reason is that online bullies are less likely to see the results of their bullying. One study showed only 16 percent felt guilty after bullying online while 40 percent felt nothing at all. When asked why they do it, some kids say it made them feel funny, popular or powerful.
More than 80 percent of young people say bullying online is easier to get away with than bullying in person. Cyberbullies are more likely to have poor relationships with their parents, so they may not have much supervision over what they are doing online.
Kids with access to technology can be subjected to online bullying 24-7, making them feel there is no escape and leaving them feeling isolated and desperate. Cyberbullying has been linked to self-harm and suicide among young people. Kids subjected to bullying and other trauma are also more likely to carry emotional scars in the form of what I call trapped emotions. These are unresolved negative emotions that become “trapped” within the physical body, causing physical and emotional stress for years to come.
Unfortunately, many kids don’t ask for help because they are afraid of being seen as weak or a tattletale or fear backlash from the bully or rejection by friends. Teens are more than twice as likely to tell their peers about bullying than they are to tell parents or other adults, one study found.
Here are 12 warning signs parents can—and should—watch for in their kids.
- Emotional upset, anxiety and depression.
- Frequent headaches and stomach aches.
- Faking illness.
- Unexplainable injuries.
- Changes in eating habits.
- Poor sleep / frequent nightmares.
- A drop in school performance.
- Not wanting to go to school.
- Sudden loss of friends.
- Avoidance of social situations.
- Low self-esteem.
- Self-destructive behaviors including self-harm, running away or talking about suicide.
There are many things we can do to help children suffering from bullying. If you see your child struggling with any of these issues, talk with him or her about what’s going on. Talking with your children is the key to both preventing bullying and to healing the emotional trauma it can cause.
Here are some other steps you can take to help your child.
- Help your child to know that he or she is valued and that it is safe to communicate with you.
- Pay attention to what your child is doing online and be aware of warning signs specific to cyber bullying.
- Encourage kids to speak with an adult they trust if they are being bullied or see other kids being bullied.
- Talk with them about how to stand up to kids who bully and how to report bullying at their school.
- Take action with the school and/or the bully’s parents to ensure the child’s safety.
- Urge kids to help others who are being bullied by showing kindness or getting help.
- Help children find and release trapped emotions. This is important both for victims and for the kids doing the bullying.
Parents of bullied kids often feel helpless, angry and frustrated. Try to keep your emotions under control so your child feels safe. And don’t neglect yourself—identifying and releasing your own trapped emotions will help you to be a better parent and fully support your child.