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Signs Your Child May be Bullied

June 21, 2011

This week we’ll be running a series of articles on bullying from the Pottstown Area Health & Wellness Foundation. Bullying, which is usually hidden from adults, can have long-lasting physical and emotional consequences for the victims. Please check out these articles and if you find them helpful, pass them along to parents and other adults in your network. I also invite you to check out the newest online community for living a healthier life at www.missionhealthyliving.org .

WHAT ARE THE WARNING SIGNS THAT YOUR CHILD

MIGHT BE BEING BULLIED?

By: David Kraybill, Executive Director

Pottstown Area Health & Wellness Foundation

You’ve been noticing your child is not quite himself or herself lately. You cannot exactly pinpoint it, but there is something wrong. Is he moody and angry because his hormones are kicking in? Is it just that typical tween or teenager “attitude” rearing its head? Hey, no child is enthusiastic about going to school all of the time, right?

If these questions have crossed your mind, you may be trying to justify your child’s change in behavior. Of course, it very well could be hormones or that he or she would just rather be doing something else besides going to school that day. However, resist the urge to brush this change in behavior under the rug or think it will go away. You know your child best, and if his or her behavior is sudden or out of character, delve deeper.

There are many reasons a child may be acting out of character, but one might be that he is being bullied at school or is being cyber-bullied. And yes, it’s likely he did not tell you what is happening out of embarrassment or fear.

Portrait of a Victim
The rise in bullying is, unfortunately, a reality in our middle and high schools. The National Youth Violence Prevention Network reports that about 30 percent of students (more than 5.7 million young people) are involved in bullying—either as the bully, the one who is bullied, or both. So, it’s very likely that incidences involving bullying will touch your child’s life at some point. So, while no child is immune to being bullied, there are certain types of kids who may be more susceptible to being a victim. Bullies tend to pick on kids who:

• Are anxious, insecure or cautious
• Suffer from low self-esteem
• Are the most popular
• Are isolated or quiet
• Rarely defend themselves or retaliate when confronted
• Lack social skills and friends
• Tend to be close to their parents or may have overprotective parents
• Are minorities, physically disabled or have a visible defect

Warning Signs
There are a number of warning signs parents can look for that indicate their child may be being bullied. While no one warning sign below creates a case that your child is being bullied, these are signs that you should not be ignore and you should investigate further with your child.

Sudden change in attitude toward school – adolescent teens change their attitudes, likes and dislikes with super speed, but if your tween or teen’s attitude changes suddenly and dramatically and she no longer has an interest in going to school or doing her schoolwork, then it warrants further investigation.

Seems afraid of going to school, walking to and from school, riding the bus or participating in organized activities with peers – if a child is being bullied, she is going to make every effort to avoid any situation where she knows it is going to happen or be alone with the bully or with a group that is bullying. Another alert is if she starts to take an illogical or out-of-the-way route home.

Unexplained cuts, bruises or other injuries – kids fall, run into things (and each other), trip and slip, but there is a difference between run-of-the-mill bumps, scrapes and bruises and bully abuse. If your child starts to have frequent unexplained injuries, or has torn or ripped clothing he didn’t have before he left for school, it could be evidence of bullying.

Starts to lose or misplace belongings or money – kids can be absent-minded and not always the most responsible, but if your child is normally responsible and careful about his things and his money and all of a sudden things he cares about “go missing,” it could be because bullies are threatening him and taking his stuff and lunch money.

Significant drop in grades – imagine trying to get through the school day while dodging a gauntlet of threats, intimidating looks, physical harassment, etc. in the hallway at 45 minutes intervals. You are not going to be focused on your classes. The bully may have created a posse and an environment of fear and apprehension—all of which can lead to a less-than-stellar academic performance for the victim.

Persistent requests to stay home because of hard-to-prove illnesses, such as stomachaches or headaches – mental anguish can manifest itself as physical discomfort, and stress can lead to headaches, and fear can result in abdominal pain. When your child claims he is too sick to go to school or a school-related activity, this may be the truth or it may be a symptom of abuse-related anxiety. He could also have created a phantom sickness to avoid seeing the bully or bullies.

Changes in eating habits or sleep patterns – the effects of bullying don’t disappear the moment the abuser is out of sight. If your child is being bullied, the pain and fear won’t dissipate once the dismissal bell rings. In fact, with this age of technology, the end of school may signal just the start of a long night of cyber-bullying. This trauma can affect sleep and eating patterns.

Changes in social patterns, activities and friends – adolescence is a time of change, and tweens and teens can change friends and groups like the wind. But, if your child has suddenly abandoned old friends, withdrawn from once-treasured activities or lost interest in hobbies that once held great significance, it’s time to do a little digging. Again, you’re not only looking for changes, but changes that are sudden and unexplainable by your child.

Mood swings, angry outbursts or other emotional changes – yes, once again, this can be “typical” teenager behavior, but if your normally mild-mannered child suddenly turns into a walking basket case or has uncharacteristic outbursts, this is a sign something is wrong. Since bullying is very traumatic, and people respond to trauma in different ways, this may be misdirected repressed anger.

The effects of bullying can last a lifetime. Behaviors, attitudes and hurts can manifest over time if left unaddressed, and become ways that children use to define themselves as they grow into adulthood. Long-term effects can include decreased self-esteem, long-term depression, anxiety, loneliness, withdrawal, suicidal ideation, and actually becoming an adult bully at home or in the workplace, or becoming a child and/
or spouse-abuser.

If you suspect your child is a victim of bullying, the first place to start is to recognize and acknowledge what is happening, and then talk to your child and ask some subtle questions to probe further and understand the situation. The next step would be to talk to the school and the administration. The most important thing to remember is do not keep quiet about bullying incidents. Many times parents and children are afraid it will worsen if they tell someone, but this is another form of control that the bully forces on the victim. It doesn’t hold the bully accountable for his or her actions—no child should have to
suffer in silence and hope it goes away—it won’t.

About the Foundation

The Pottstown Area Health & Wellness Foundation’s mission is to enhance the health and wellness of area residents, providing education, funding and programs that motivate people to adopt healthy lifestyles. Visit www.pottstownfoundation.org for more information about the Foundation. Discover Pottstown area’s new online community at www.missionhealthyliving.org to learn and share geat information on how to lead a healthier life!

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