Recently I blogged about the importance of friendship to me in my recovery from years of bullying. Even when I was bullied, I was lucky enough to have friends that did stick by me and stay my friends, including one who reconnected with me from reading this blog.
I consider myself lucky. I know that my attitude during those years of bullying could have easily led to isolation and withdraw. In fact, I could probably stipulate that, if I had all the home entertainment items that many kids today have, including video games, unlimited television channels, and computers, I might have withdrawn into those. Instead, with those not around, going outside and playing was the best option I had, since I wasn’t much of a reader as a child.
I have a friend who has a son that is bullied and I have seen a dramatic change in his behavior recently. He has become verbally negative when he was always a nice and kind person before. He seems as if he is misreading comments given to him, much like someone who is constantly being ridiculed. But the biggest thing I see is that he has few to no friends and seems to isolate himself in games on the computer. In fact, my son the other day told me the boy had a new iTouch on the bus ride to the school. He nodding his head as if he was listening to music. My son asked him what he was listening to and looked down at his iTouch. He actually didn’t have any music on it and wasn’t listening to anything. He was just pretending so that no one would bug him.
With that in mind I think it’s an important element of the bullying discussion to talk about what parents and teachers need to look out for. There are studies correlating isolation and bullying to suicide and possibly even other violent acts from the victims. If we open our eyes, it’s not that hard to see these signs, but parents and teachers have to take an interest in looking for them. What to look for in the victim:
- Child is not active in any outside social activities and shows no interest in being involved in any group activities
- Child does activities at home that don’t involve others (reading, video games, listening to music)
- Child is constantly in their room with the door closed or alone
- Child is not invited to any play dates or doesn’t request a play date at their house
- Child has become aggressive, seems constantly unhappy or angry
- Grades in school have dropped
- Child complains of feeling sick more often without obvious physical symptoms
- Child shows a change in behavior (stops answering questions and is quiet or seems sad when happy before)
- Child doesn’t seem to have any friends in the class
- Child lingers behind when going from one location to another
- Child’s grades fall below previous semesters/years
- Child is overtly, covertly or relationally bullied (which should be obvious during instruction)
It is so important to be alert to these items and to not ignore them. There are many ideas to help the child when you see these signs. For teachers and parents, you need to make sure you are doing the following:
- Listen to children and know what is going on in the classroom or home
- Be alert to symptoms of bullying, such as changed behaviors, passivity, and withdrawal from group activities
- Understand the nature of both overt and relationally aggressive bullying
- Realize that bullying is a classwide and youthwide problem
- Make explicit to children your commitment that bullying is not something you want in your classroom or home
- Assure children that you will intervene
- Help children learn how to make and be a friend
As adults, it’s important that we be there for these children. Once they begin to feel alone and doubt that anyone is there for them, trouble is not far behind. Our biggest problem as adults is that we don’t know who to turn to for help. Starting at the school and talking to professional child psychologists that you trust is a good first step. There is more than one solution and what works for one child might not work for another.
By doing nothing, we are starting the course of long-term damage from bullying, which is akin now to PTSD and can lead to future school and even work/life failures due to low self-esteem and self-doubt. Look for these signs and don’t wait to take some form of action to help a child who is suffering.
Since the boy I mentioned at the beginning of my article here is not my son, I will need to talk to his parents. Of course this is a delicate situation, but it’s not worth me not talking to them in order to help the child. These issues aren’t easy and making a good decision in time to make a difference starts with just being a good parent or good teacher and knowing the child. Start by being there for them and, of course, letting them know that you are their friend as well.