Thursday, July 17, 2008

Grade School Bullying

“A new phrase has entered our vocabulary: “Barbie Brats.” The name applies to an overlooked group of kids- young children, only 6 or 8 or 10 years old, who bully other kids in real life or on the Internet.”

– Louise Myslik, LCSW

Sherrod is only seven, but already, he says, he’s the victim of bullies. Sometimes it’s verbal, at other times, physical.

“They tell me to do stuff and then they push me into a wall.”

“They don’t like him,” says Sherrod’s mother, Sherry Thornton. “They won’t share with him. They do things and just blame it on him.”

Bullying among younger kids is happening more often. In fact, studies show three-quarters of children aged 8 to 11 say they’ve been bullied.

Experts say as kids learn to socialize, sometimes they’re nice and sometimes mean. It’s the mean behavior parents should focus on.

“We can’t assume that kids will be kids [and] at some point, they will grow out of this,” says Louise Myslik, a licensed clinical social worker. “We need to really pay attention to it and help them understand what it means to be mean, what it looks like, how it feels and why it’s not appropriate.”

Experts say parents should first talk to their children about bullying. Also, ask detailed questions.

For instance, says Myslik, “’Do you think your school has bullies? Do you have bullies in your class? What do they do? What do they say? Whom do they hurt? Have you ever been hurt?’”

She says if your child is a bully, don’t ignore the behavior. If your child is the victim, like Sherrod, teach them to speak up – tell an adult, stand up to the bully.

Sherrod’s mother offers him these words, “’Stop. Don’t do that to me. I don’t like that. You’re hurting me or you hurt my feelings,’ she says, “To me, communication is key.”

Tips for Parents

It may seem like innocent child’s play, but physical and verbal taunting can weigh heavily on kids. According to a report, teasing and bullying top the list of children’s school troubles. In a survey called “Talking with Kids About Tough Issues,” authors polled 823 kids ranging in age from 8 to 15. The majority reported teasing and bullying are “big problems” that rank higher than racism, smoking, drinking, drugs or sex.

Australian researchers also found that teenagers who are the targets of repeated taunts, threats and/or physical violence are more likely to develop symptoms of anxiety and depression. Girls appear to be particularly vulnerable.

“Bullying, teasing and harassment are psychological and psychiatric traumas,” says Dr. William S. Pollack, a clinical psychologist at Harvard Medical School. Those traumas can lead to “anxiety, depression, dysfunction, nightmares, and later, incapacity to function actively and healthfully as an adult.”

Experts say it is extremely important to open the lines of communication with your kids.
Consider the following tips:

Start early
Initiate conversations
Create an open environment
Communicate your values
Listen to your child
Try to be honest
Be patient
Share your experiences
Also, watch for behavioral changes. Children who are suffering from teasing and bullying may try to hide the hurt. They become withdrawn from family and friends, lose interest in hobbies, and may turn to destructive habits like alcohol, drugs, and acts of violence.

It is the ultimate responsibility of your child’s school to make the school safe for him/her. Share the following tips with your child, and tell him/her to only do the things recommended below if he/she is comfortable doing them. If your child is not comfortable, encourage him/her to get help from a teacher or counselor. And even when he/she takes the actions below, it is always a good idea for him/her to let parents and teachers know.

Be assertive
Write the harasser a letter
Document incidents
Check with other students
File a formal complaint
Kaiser Family Foundation
Children Now
British Medical Journal
U.S. Department of Education
LaMarsh Research Centre