One of the most distressing moments as a parent comes when you witness your child in pain. Few things can cause more pain for a child or adolescent than being the victim of bullying. Many times, parents are unsure of what constitutes bullying and how to address the issue when it is presented. Learning the signs and how to address the issue of bullying can prevent further pain to the victim, and can also bring healing to the individual engaged in the act of bullying.
From a Biblical perspective, we know that bullying does not honor what Jesus instructed us to do in John 13:34 when He said “love one another.” So any type of bullying goes against the essence of true Christianity. However, bullying takes place inside the body of Christ, as well as outside. Bullying can come in multiple forms, but all forms can cause immeasurable pain for the victim. Bullying occurs when an individual experiences a real or perceived power differential that results in unwanted aggressive behavior from a peer or group of peers (Swearer, 2010). Bullying takes on many forms and can include physical attacks, physical threats, spreading malicious rumors, exclusion from activities, and verbal attacks. Bullying is not only something that occurs in a face-to-face interchange, but rather includes any of these threatening behaviors that can occur in cyber space. Unfortunately, the expansion of technology has allowed bullying to transcend the safety of an individual’s home. Prior to social media, bullying was viewed as a problem that could be “shut out” when a person entered the safety of his or her own home. However, with the advent of technology, cyber bullying now follows an individual home, creating an atmosphere of vulnerability everywhere.
To date, research has not identified one single factor that puts a child at greater risk for being a victim of bullying (Swearer, 2010). There are some factors that might contribute to a child being bullied, though. Having a difference from one’s peers, being highly submissive, being a victim of childhood abuse, or being from highly punitive home environments can put children at risk for being victims of bullying (Marano, 2014). Multiple studies indicate that children and adolescents who are victims of bullying are at an increased risk for depression and anxiety, which can continue into adulthood (Marano, 2014). Individuals who bully tend to have more strained relationships with parents and peers, lack pro-social behavior, and struggle to understand the feelings of another (Marano, 2014).
So what can parents do if they learn their child is a victim of bullying? One of the most important aspects of responding to bullying is for the victim to feel supported by others (Marano, 2014). One of the main roles of parents is to act as an advocate for their child. Therefore, it is important that parents respond appropriately by intervening and contacting teachers and school officials. Parents can evaluate whether or not school officials are addressing the bullying as it occurs. Teachers and school officials should work consistently and in a timely manner to address bullying and seek appropriate services for both the victim and the bully. At home, parents can coach their child on how to respond to bullying attacks. Children and adolescents should never be encouraged to fight back to a bully. Returning aggressiveness with aggressiveness tends to ignite a conflict rather than deflect the situation. Rather, children and adolescents should use assertive communication to tell the bully the behavior is unacceptable and then walk away. If the bully persists, children should be encouraged to seek support from an adult.
Of special interest is how to address cyber bullying. At times, cyber bullying can escalate to an illegal offense in which bullies may be posting inappropriate photos of an individual which might constitute child pornography, stalking, and hate crimes (stopbullying.gov, n.d.). In this case, it can be important to involve authorities. Parents need to monitor their child’s online activity, including social media, text messages, e-mails, and so forth. Many times, monitoring a child’s technology usage is not about distrusting the child, but rather working to create safe boundaries in which the child is not a victim of bullying or other cyber crimes. As parents, we must remember that one of our jobs is to teach our children how to interact within the culture of our times. Currently, our culture is saturated with technology; therefore, savvy parents will help their child learn appropriate boundaries with technology. When responding to cyber bullying, it is important that parents document any occurrence of cyber bullying. Additionally, it is not helpful to respond to cyber bullying attacks online. Bullying behavior should be reported to online service providers, and quite possibly school officials (stopbullying.gov).
Lastly, children and adolescents are constantly observing our behaviors as adults. If we create an atmosphere of safety, free of bullying, we are at greater odds of preventing bullying behaviors. It is so important for those who have been victim to bullying to be seen and heard in their pain. Immediate response and action is crucial to create an atmosphere of support in these matters. Further, individual counseling and group counseling can be very beneficial to help a child or adolescent process this type of experience.
Marano, H. E. (2014). Bully pulpit. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/201405/bully-pulpit
Stopbullying.gov (n.d.). Report cyberbullying. Retrieved from https://www.stopbullying.gov/cyberbullying/how-to-report/index.html
Swearer, S. (2010). Bullying: What parents, teachers can do to stop it. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2010/04/bullying.aspx
Special thanks to Dr. Andi Thacker for contributing to Parentingpathway.org.
In addition to her teaching responsibilities at Dallas Theological Seminary, Andi maintains a small private practice in which she specializes with children and adolescents and supervises LPC Interns. Andi is a Licensed Professional Counselor, a Board Approved Supervisor, a Registered Play Therapist, and a Nationally Certified Counselor. She and her husband, Chad, have been married for 12 years and have two children, Emerson and Will. They have been members at Stonebriar Community Church since 2004 and are active in their Sunday Fellowship and MarriageCore.