The rise of social media and smartphones has made the impact of school bullying more apparent. A 2012 report from the US Department of Health & Human Services stated that 37% of students reported being bullied in school, and 52% report being cyber bullied.
These statistics are alarming to many, especially parents. As mentors and guardians to our children, we are all looking for tools to make our kids more aware of bullying and better able to handle conflicts with their friends and peers.
The negative feelings associated with being bullied lead to fear and anxiety, as well as a build up of stress. When combining the stress of bullying with other stressors (tests, homework, competitive sports, etc.) it becomes difficult for some kids to separate out the causes and find reasonable solutions.
Effect of a tangible tool
After years of working with stressed and overworked clients and seeing my clients’ kids struggle, I have found that having a tangible representation of their underlying issues encourages stress management.
To follow this method, children should select some sort of physical reminder to carry with them throughout the day. For instance, I use a rock with a stress word or phrase written on it. Other objects, including toy figures, charms, or even a unique pen may all work effectively. Then, near the end of the day when the child gets home from school or their daily activities, they take their object out and spend some time thinking about how that stressor affected them during the day. This object becomes a tool for children to conceptualize their stress and identify emotions that are often more difficult to articulate, such as fear. The object also creates an opportunity for parents to openly discuss conflicts and problems with their children and become better equipped to guide them toward constructive solutions.
According to Elizabeth Washburn, a social worker and developmental disability expert, having a tangible tool “can assist communication and coping skills because it allows them a verbal prompt that shows the emotion that they are attempting to express. Psychologists use [these] tools in allowing children to express and identify the target of their pain.”
In order for us as parents to effectively use tangible tools, we must first understand where bullying comes from. Environmental factors like family life, school life, and peer interactions can all have a major impact on a child’s behavior.
As a starting point, we can evaluate the nature of a child’s environment at home and the relationships the child has developed with family members. Before outright blaming ourselves or other family members for the issues our child is facing, let’s look at recent interactions and conversations that the child may have observed. Do you ever speak disparagingly of a co-worker or relative or make a joke at someone’s expense? Or did you and your spouse get in an argument recently? These are the subtle, often innocent behaviors that our children can pick up on and use as a justification to bully someone at school.
In terms of peer and social relationships, we as parents have a duty to be involved in our child’s life. Make an effort to talk with teachers regarding not only their performance, but also classroom interactions. Look for signs of aggressive behavior towards others. Also, know your child’s friends! Who do they hang out with? Simply put, be involved and know what’s going on when your child is away from home.
Effects of being bullied
As adults, it can be easy to brush off the seriousness of bullying. We may think back to being bullied when we were kids and treat it as no big deal – it made us build character. The reality today, however, is that teen suicides and school shootings are on the rise and these increases are caused by depression and anxiety that often starts at an early age. New technology allows rumors to spread to large groups of students with just a few clicks on a smartphone. According to Tom Krause, “Society, in general, has made teenage years more stressful today than it was thirty years ago. Increasing drug usage, suicide attempts, and dropout rates attest to the difficulty many children and teens face.”
I urge all parents to realize the seriousness of bullying and the importance of opening up discussions with their kids, parents of their child’s friends, and teachers. I also urge you to familiarize yourself with your state’s anti-bullying laws. 49 of 50 states have such a law, and there are also federal laws to be aware of. Consider using tangible tools to help your kids cope with the stresses of modern life and to help facilitate communication with your child.
Read more about being bullied
Gail Peterson is a perpetual entrepreneur, advice giver, and optimist. She is currently heading the post of Chief Rock Picker in her latest venture Too Many Rocks in Your Pocket, and thus knows how tangible tools allow your kids to cope with school bullying