(The following piece featured in the Dundee Courier on 17 November 2014)
I have worked with many children and adults who have suffered at the hands of bullies. The word bullying describes any behaviour that is malicious, intimidating or offensive. It is intended to humiliate or even injure the person it’s aimed at, and sustained bullying over a period of time wears down mental resilience.
The effects of bullying People being bullied will often feel helpless and frustrated while gradually losing confidence in their abilities. They may experience physical symptoms such as sickness, sleeplessness and loss of appetite. Bullied children may feel anxious about going to school, and adults dread going into the workplace due to uncontrollable feelings of panic associated with going to the location of the bullying. These effects can spill over into family life causing added relationship problems. Bullied individuals can also find it difficult to motivate themselves which affects their productivity so it’s not surprising their studies or careers may suffer too.
Why people bully A difficult home life can exacerbate the likelihood of a bullied child becoming a bully – indeed in most cases bullies were bullied themselves and are passing on that behaviour. And the bully’s social environment can influence their behaviour - we often receive more attention for negative behaviour than we do for positive. In children, the usual power struggles of the playground transform into something much more destructive if a child bully decides to abuse their power in some way, e.g. they may be much larger in size than other children and purposely pick on the smallest child, thereby giving themselves a fleeting feeling of control.
Cyber-bullying The social media revolution means that bullying no longer stops in the playground. I have seen an increase in the effects of cyber-bullying, with youngsters struggling with the psychological pressures arising from overuse of social media. In a recent survey questioning 10,000 young people, 7 out of 10 had been a victim of cyber-bullying – a worrying statistic. Living their lives online (via Facebook, Instagram and other social media channels) is leading to a dramatic reduction in self-esteem, particularly in young girls who can be more affected by the opinions of their peers. Parents can help by being more vigilant about how long their children are online for and which sites they’re visiting.
Worried your child is being bullied? Is your child anxious about going to school? Are they behaving differently, for example in a shy manner when they are usually outgoing? Bullied children often ‘act out’ after school, the result of a day of pent-up feelings, so take note if your child shows anger or aggression for no apparent reason. Do they lose their temper easily, or need constant reassurance? Are they pushing you away physically, or biting their nails, or pulling at their hair? As well as a lack of self-confidence and restlessness and/or sleeplessness, these are all signs of increased anxiety which could be symptoms of bullying.
Top tips for dealing with bullies
- The most important thing is to stay healthy as this will mean you’re firing on all cylinders physically, emotionally and psychologically when facing the bully.
- Bullies crave an emotional response so do your best to remain calm and rational, no matter how upset you may be feeling inside. Tell them in your most assertive voice to stop the behaviour that is upsetting you. Some people are unaware of the effect their actions have on others so this may be all it takes to put an end to the bullying.
- Tell someone close to you (a family member, friend, teacher or colleague) about what is happening to you and build a strong support network. Speak to others and find out whether they are experiencing similar problems. Being seen surrounded by friends/colleagues will often deter a bully and makes you a less attractive target.
- Understandably you may wish to forget what has happened but it’s important to keep a record of the bullying incidents so that, if you need to take the matter further, you will have the facts of when, where and how you were bullied to hand.
- Finally, consider professional counselling as a way of dealing with any unresolved feelings towards bullying.