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What Parents Should Know About Bullying, Part I

Bullying includes behaviors such as hitting, teasing, taunting, spreading rumors and gossip, stealing, and excluding someone from a group. Bullying actions are carried out on purpose with the intent to harm someone.

Bullying is usually a repeated activity. However, it may also occur as a one-time event. It always involves a power imbalance. The person bullying has more power due to factors such as age, size, strength, support of friends, and access to resources such as toys.

Children and adults sometimes find it difficult to recognize bullying. For example, a fight between friends or rough play between children with equal power are not bullying situations. They become bullying, however, when one person has more power and uses it to hurt, frighten, or exclude the other person

Who Bullies?

People sometimes assume that only boys bully, but that is not true. Girls also bully others. Boys tend to use methods such as hitting, fighting, and threatening. These face-to-face behaviors are easy to observe.

Girls do bully using physical and verbal attacks, but they often use behind-the-back methods that are harder to see. These more subtle behaviors include getting peers to exclude others and spreading rumors and gossip. It’s important to remember, though, that girls and boys use both face-to-face and behind-the-back methods.

What Are the Consequences of Bullying?

Bullying jeopardizes children’s safety and potentially creates both short- and long-term problems for all children involved.

Children who are bullied are more likely to develop future academic problems and psychological difficulties. Serious problems such as depression and low self-esteem can result, and they can continue into adulthood.

Children who bully and continue this behavior as adults have greater difficulty developing and maintaining positive relationships. Research shows that without effective intervention, children who regularly bully others may grow up to become perpetrators of domestic violence, child abuse, hate crimes, sexual abuse, and other illegal behaviors. In fact, children with bullying problems at age 8 are six times more likely to be convicted of a crime by age 24 than children who do not bully.

How Many Children Does Bullying Really Affect?

Bullying affects virtually all children. Although it is true that some children will never be bullied, research shows that children witness 85 percent of school bullying incidents. Child witnesses, or bystanders, may feel powerless to stop bullying. They may fear being bullied next. And they may feel sad or guilty about the abuse others experience. Additionally, bystanders may see those who bully succeed at getting what they want. This may tempt bystanders to take part themselves.

Isn’t Bullying Just a Normal Part of Growing Up?

The many myths about bullying include the notion that bullying is a harmless childhood activity and a normal part of growing up. Confusion about the difference between conflict and bullying can fuel this myth. Although occasional peer conflict is inevitable, bullying is not inevitable. In a conflict, both sides have equal power to resolve the problem. But bullying involves the intentional, one-sided use of power to control another. Its harmful consequences can affect people seriously for the rest of their lives.

What Can You Tell Me About Bullying Between Siblings?

Some degree of conflict among siblings is to be expected. In some situations, however, sibling rivalry can develop into bullying as children jockey for power. Given the normal amount of teasing and bickering in any family, it can be difficult for parents to know where to draw the line. Ideally, we want our children to learn to work out disagreements among themselves. But when is adult intervention necessary?

Here’s a good rule of thumb: Behavior that would be unacceptable between two unrelated children is unacceptable between two siblings. When one child intentionally and consistently hurts or frightens a smaller or less powerful sibling, that’s bullying—and it needs to stop. Like all forms of bullying, bullying among siblings can have long-term effects. It can damage self-esteem and set the pattern for abusive relationships in the future.

Read more to find out what to do if your child is being bullied in What Parents Should Know About Bullying, Part 2

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