How parents can respond to their child being bullied

Finding out that your child is not being accepted by their peers can be heartbreaking. Even worse, learning that your child has been harmed by a peer is an experience that, likely, no parent hopes to face this upcoming school year or at any time. Unfortunately, the reality is that approximately 10 percent of 6th to 12th graders have been bullied and subsequently 1 in 10 parents across this nation will have to find out that their child is being bullied. The parent(s) of that child then must come up with a plan and address this sensitive issue. The questions then are:

• Where do you start?
• Who should be a part of the action plan?
• What resources are available within your community?

Health care professionals can be valuable allies in these stressful circumstances. Health care providers take bullying very seriously. When providing care to the patients we encounter, we consider this an important topic to screen for and many times advocate for. From a health and well-being stance, bullying can be detrimental to health both physically and mentally.

Effects of bullying may include:

• Physical injury
• Difficulty sleeping and/or concentrating
• Anxiety
• Depression
• Poor self-esteem
• Physical symptoms (nausea or anorexia)
• Poor attendance at school

As a parent, be aware of the effects that bullying may have on your child’s health and self-esteem and try to support them to find talents that bring them joy and boost their self- confidence. Immediate intervention is important, so always keep the communication lines open and/or find other adults who your child can share with in confidence. Remember that bullying doesn’t always happen in person; unfortunately, cyberbullying is a constant in today’s society.

There are several recommended ways to address bullying. If your child has been or is currently being victimized, consider taking these initial steps with your child:

1. Discuss ways to react to these situations (you may even consider role playing with them).

For example:
o Teach them how to clearly tell the bully how he/she/they feel and be direct when asking the bully to leave he/she/them alone.
o Explain the importance of telling an adult.
o Model respectful behavior both in your teachings and in your interactions.

2. Consider discussing ways that your child can avoid situations where/when bullying typically occurs.

For example:
o Recommend walking to school with a parent or older peer.
o Ensure that there is adequate supervision in classes or at events.
o Parents may consider supervising situations when this is appropriate.
o Avoiding certain activities or places where the bullying occurs.

3. Ensure that the adults involved in your child’s education and on their health care teams are aware of what is going on and ask for their assistance.

4. Investigate your child’s school’s anti-bullying program. If there is not one in place, consider advocating for one. Also review district and state legislation.

5. Discuss social media guidelines with your child and ensure proper privacy settings are in place. Inform them to not share account information or passwords with others. Ensure that they are very conscious of what they post online and who may be seeing it.

Parents should also know that law enforcement officials should be contacted immediately if weapons are involved, there are illegal behaviors involved, there is sexual or physical abuse going on, any actions are hate motivated, and/or if there has been any serious physical injury.

Many resources and publications are available online to help you come up with a strategy when dealing with this sensitive issue. Here is a list of some of those resources:
o StopBullying.gov
o TheBullyProject.com
o StompOutBullying.org

For more information on the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine, visit www.chp.edu/adolescent.