South Sound children should be learning and experiencing many elements of life, but bullying is not one of them. But surveys show us that 1 in 3 Thurston County middle school students have been bullied in the past month.
Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-age children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance such as physical strength, access to embarrassing information or popularity. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Kids who are bullied and those who bully might have serious, lasting problems. Bullying is a form of youth violence.
Bullying has three attributes:
▪ Physical bullying involves hurting a person’s body or possessions. It includes hitting, kicking, pinching, spitting, tripping, pushing, taking or breaking someone’s possessions, and making mean or rude hand gestures.
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▪ Verbal bullying is saying or writing mean comments, and includes teasing, name-calling, inappropriate sexual comments, taunting and threatening to cause harm.
▪ Social or relational bullying involves hurting someone’s reputation or relationships. It includes leaving someone out on purpose, telling other children not to be friends with someone, spreading rumors about someone and embarrassing someone in public.
Bullying can occur during or after school hours, on or off school grounds, and includes cyberbullying via social media.
Out of fear or embarrassment, children might not speak up about bullying, but certain changes, physical or emotional, can lead to depression, substance abuse or other problems.
Warning signs include unexplainable injuries, lost or destroyed clothing, books, electronics or jewelry, frequent headaches or stomachaches, feeling sick or faking illness, changes in eating habits, difficulty sleeping or frequent nightmares, falling grades or loss of interest in schoolwork or going to school, sudden loss of friends or avoidance of social events, feelings of helplessness or decreased self-esteem, and self-destructive behaviors, including talking about suicide.
Bullying can happen to any child. Some groups, including lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender youths, youths with disabilities, youths from certain racial and ethnic groups, and socially isolated youths are at increased risk of being bullied.
However, any child who is perceived as being “different” from their peers — being overweight or underweight, wearing glasses or certain types of clothing, being new to a school or being unable to afford “cool” personal effects — is at risk.
Effects of bullying
Kids who are bullied can experience negative physical, school and mental health issues that can persist into adulthood. Kids who are bullied also are more likely to see their grades fall.
Kids who bully others are more likely to abuse alcohol and other drugs, get into fights and vandalize property, engage in early sexual activity, and as adults become abusive toward their romantic partners, spouses and children.
Bullying has social costs, also affecting bystanders who witness acts of bullying.
Building safe environments
Parents can support their children by helping them understand bullying, by keeping communication open, by encouraging kids to do what they love and by modeling how to treat others with kindness and respect.
Many resources are available to help you learn more about bullying. Consider others who can offer help, including schools, coaches, faith groups, and health care workers.
Reach Dr. Rachel C. Wood, health officer for Thurston and Lewis counties, at 360-867-2501, firstname.lastname@example.org.