Bullying- The Real Scare this October

Bullying- The Real Scare this October

As October comes around, many things come to mind…pumpkins, ghouls, goblins…and bullying. As some of you may know, in addition to being the resident month of Halloween, October is also National Bullying Prevention Month. In support and celebration of National Bullying Prevention Month we would like to share some helpful information, resources and tips for parents and children about bullying and cyberbullying.

What is bullying?
The US Department of Health and Human Services (USDHHS) defines bullying as unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children 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. In recent years, this definition has grown to include a disturbing set of behaviors known as cyberbullying.

The USDHHS defines cyberbullying as bullying that takes place using electronic technology. Electronic technology includes devices and equipment such as cell phones, computers, and tablets as well as communication tools including social media sites, text messages, chat, and websites. Examples of cyberbullying include mean text messages or emails, rumors sent by email or posted on social networking sites, and embarrassing pictures, videos, websites, or fake profiles. The Center for Disease Control estimates that in 2011, 16% of high school students experienced a form of cyberbullying – and indeed this is a growing problem.

Bullying and cyberbullying have been found to be strongly related to several negative effects in youth including but not limited to low self-esteem, feeling of worthlessness, sadness and depression, unwillingness to attend school or class and even poor physical health. Even more frightening and disturbing is the increasing number of so called bullycide. Bullycide has been coined as a term for growing number of children and adolescents who commit suicide in response to feelings of desperation and hopelessness triggered by bullying or cyberbullying. There were two reported instances of bullycide in the US in the last 5 weeks!

What can we do?
As fast as technology was grown, we as parents, educators and caretakers must race to protect our children from this growing threat. First and foremost, creating and instilling healthy conflict resolution skills and resilience in the face of bullying for your children is key. If your child is able to identify bullying behavior and label this as more about the bully then themselves, they may be in a better position to avoid the harmful effects of bullying.

Filters and monitoring programs can be installed on home computers, tablets and smart phones to not only protect our children from sexual predators and illicit content, but can also facilitate appropriate monitoring to ensure your child is not the victim of cyberbullying.

Thankfully, in the war against bullying, the law is on our side! Florida state law identifies bullying and cyberbullying as a crime punishable by law! Parents are encouraged to file a police report any and every time their child experiences bullying or cyberbullying. Please remember – nothing is ever truly anonymous on the internet, and once it is out there, it is there permanently (even if you delete it or take it down)

What is NOT bullying?
As we already covered, both bullying and cyberbullying is an aggressive behavior that is repeated and involves a power imbalance. While certainly hurtful, inappropriate and deserving of a parent or teacher’s attention, one time incidents of teasing and physical aggression does NOT constitute bullying.

Children need to be able to have and solve their differences, and this may mean at times discovering how to deal with frustrations and anger with each other in appropriate ways. Additionally, children need to develop the ability to tolerate and become resilient to the negative or insensitive messages they are likely to encounter in adulthood. Bullying need not be a part of this important and healthy development.

In conclusion – bullying and cyberbullying is a very real and frightening threat facing all of our children, but we are not defenseless. Careful monitoring and skill building can go a long way towards protecting our children inside and out from the harmful effects of bullying.

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