‘The prospect of being taunted, teased and generally humiliated at school is huge.’
If we learned anything by reading William Golding’s Lord of the Flies in middle school, it is that children can be very cruel to each other, whether surrounded by institutional walls or not.
Okay, school isn’t exactly a deserted island where one’s very survival is at stake, but it has its stresses, including crowded halls, limited free time and the inevitable emergence of tribalism and hierarchy.
The prospect of being taunted, teased and generally humiliated at school is huge.
For years after they were bullied, adults who were victims in their teen years have higher rates of depression and low self-esteem and are more likely to ponder suicide.
The much-discussed threat of cyberbullying affects as many as three in four teenagers in a given year, according to a 2008 UCLA study.
And while cyberbullying often takes place out of school, school is where bullies meet, target and often torment their online victims first, says study author Jaana Juvonen, a UCLA professor of developmental psychology.
And the forms that bullying take online and in school, she noted, “are more alike than different”.
What you can do
Stop Bullying (www.stopbullying.gov), a clearinghouse for research and resources for parents and schools, notes that parents will often be the first to detect the signs of bullying — if they’re paying attention and know what to look for.
Parents should ask “what’s up” at school and listen for signs of distress, including physical complaints such as headaches and stomach pain, frequent bad dreams or changes in appetite or sleep. A child who comes home with missing or ripped clothing (or lost booksor jewellery) may be being bullied.
And if your child is a victim of bullying, get help — from the teacher, a more senior school administrator or the Department of Education if your child is not getting the protection he needs. Common Sense Media (www.commonsensemedia.org), offers advice and research on keeping kids safe in the digital world, urges parents to ask questions and become savvy about their kids’ online habits, including the social networking sites they frequent.
Help them understand the fine line between funny and cruel in digital communications, and make sure they talk to someone adult about their online world — even if it’s not you.