If you think back to your years spent in school, you’ll probably remember a child who was the target of bullying. He may have been smaller than the others, or unattractive, or just somehow a little bit “different.” He didn’t have many friends, and those who might have been interested in friendship kept their distance for fear of being bullied themselves.

Though much may have changed since your own school days, the bullying of certain children has remained an unfortunate constant. It has been estimated that as many as 30 percent of teens in the United States are involved in bullying, either as a victim or as a bully themselves.

What Is Bullying?
Simply put, bullying involves repetitive actions meant to harm someone who is perceived as weaker or more vulnerable. Bullying includes a variety of behaviors both physical and verbal. Bullies may trip, push, punch or kick a target; intimidate or threaten him; or spread rumors either verbally or via the Internet.

A victim of bullying can become anxious and fearful, lose sleep and self-esteem, and become depressed. In extreme cases, the target of a bully may commit suicide or take drastic retaliatory action, such as shooting those who have bullied him.

Appearance and social status are the two main reasons that people become the target of a bully. Victims may be small, shy, unattractive – or just “different” looking. They may be members of a minority race or religion, or exhibit behaviors that students associate with homosexuality.

Bullies, on the other hand, are often big, arrogant, and aggressive. They are hot tempered and impulsive, and have little tolerance for frustration. Bullies have a strong need to control others and have little sensitivity for their targets. They tend to get into trouble more easily than others, be involved with drugs and alcohol, and often do poorly in school.

Bullies make friends of followers who may not initiate bullying themselves, but who are happy to oblige their “leader” and participate in the aggression.

How Can I Help My Child?
You may not realize that your child is a target of bullying until she becomes reluctant to attend school or has physical problems related to the issue, such as stomach pain.

Talk to your child to get at the root of the problem; if the child is young or if the bullying is serious enough to cause physical danger, it must be reported to the school. Many schools these days have strong anti-bullying policies and teacher and administrators can help to intervene.

If your child is in no immediate danger, help her to develop a plan to combat the bullying. The following are some pieces of advice that may help your child:

  • Walk away from the bully. Bullies thrive on reactions; if you control your anger or hide your pain, the bully may get bored and stop bothering you.
  • Use humor. Make a joke or laugh; this may diffuse the situation.
  • Act confident. Bullies pick on those that appear weak and uncertain. Hold your head up high, walk confidently, and make eye contact. You’re less likely to be singled out if you act confident – even if you don’t feel that way.
  • Try to make friends with others. Participate in extracurricular activities, join a group outside of school, or volunteer. Not only will this boost your self-esteem, but it may keep the bullies at bay – as they often look for “loners” to pick on.
  • Avoid situations where bullying can happen. Walk to and from school with others, and avoid areas that are isolated or unsupervised by adults.
  • Do not resort to violence, no matter what. Carrying a gun for protection or acting out physically against a bully simply invites more trouble.

What If My Child Is A Bully?
If your child is a bully, take his actions as a warning sign that he is headed for trouble without your intervention. Teens, especially boys, who bully are more likely to engage in other risky or delinquent behavior, such as stealing, school truancy, and drug and alcohol use. They are also more likely to have criminal convictions in adulthood.

Help your child to see that what people feel for bullies isn’t respect, just fear. Encourage him to use his power for something positive so that he can be a leader through strength and character rather than aggression. Help him to have empathy for how his victims may feel.

It’s hard to stop bullying behaviors if they’ve been allowed to go on for a long time. You may need to seek counseling for your child in order for her to learn to effectively change her behavior.