About one in four American students say they have been bullied at school. A fifth of all students between 12 and 18 years of age in the country have experienced bullying in some form, according to the National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice Statistics. Whether bullying is on the rise is hard to determine, according to Julie Hertzog, director of PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center. “Awareness has risen and that may account for more cases being reported.”
Online (cyber) and offline (physical) bullying occur frequently not in isolation of one another, Hertzog said. “If a child is being bullied face to face, it’s likely happening online as well,” she added.
Teachers see kids for a good part of the day, but no one knows children better than their parents. And this is why parents and teachers need to form a partnership and work together to detect any sign of abusive behavior as early as possible, Hertzog noted.
There is no single, universal sign, Hertzog added. The only sure way to know is if the child opens up about it. “But they often don’t because they fear the situation may get worse.”
Finding a solution to bullying is not an easy matter. Some parents take their child out of the school and move way, but that’s not always the answer. Many parents want immediate attention, according to Ross Ellis, founder and chief executive officer of STOMP Out Bullying. “Some want the bully arrested or suspended, which is unrealistic.” A better approach, he adds, is for the school to get to the root of why a child is acting in such a bad way and then get him or her help.
There is no federal law directly addressing bullying, but in some cases it can overlap with laws against harassment based on race, country of origin, disability, or religion. Some states have established anti-bullying laws or other regulations to address the problem. Most of these require that schools investigate when bullying is reported and respond accordingly.
The prevalence of bullying varies heavily throughout the United States and may be correlated with factors such as child obesity, poverty, and mental stress — these are the states where bullying is the biggest problem.
There is a right and a wrong way to talk about bullying once a child reports it to their parents, Hertzog said. A child may not use the word “bully,” he or she may say “someone was mean to me today.” Your response should not be “just ignore it, it’ll go away,” according to Hertzog. This never works. Avoid saying, “stand up for yourself” because chances are the child already has tried that and it hasn’t worked. Instead try: “it’s not your fault,” “you didn’t deserve this,” “I want to help,” “I want to hear more,” or “I’m so glad you told me, we’re going to figure this out.”
To identify 20 warning signs a child may be getting bullied, 24/7 Tempo consulted several experts specializing in bullying prevention and reviewed information from both government and non-profit anti-bullying and cyberbullying organizations, such as StopBullying.gov and StompOutBullying.org.