Bullying is defined as unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived difference in power. The behavior is repeated or has the potential to become repeated over time. Differences can be in size, age, political advantage, economic advantage or social advantage. Bullying is common and reaches victims in school and online via social media apps and programs like Instagram, SnapChat, WhatsApp, Burn Note, Whisper, Yik Yak and YouTube. Some apps are anonymous or enable messages to disappear after a period of time.

Adults can ask three simple questions to uncover signs of bullying: 

1. Do you ever see children picking on other children? 

2. Do other children ever pick on you? 

3. Do you ever pick on other children? (And tell the truth; you are not in trouble.)

Children who bully often learn this behavior at home. Their parents are often absent, abusive, disengaged or overly involved with other pursuits. Children who live in violent communities are also at risk.

Bullying can take several forms: Physical bullying — where the victim is touched or struck without consent, or his property is destroyed. Verbal bullying — where the victim is called names and insulted or disrespected. Cyberbullying — where the victim is an online target, sometimes anonymously and sometimes via public humiliation (e.g. video posted online without consent). Social bullying — where the bully tries to damage the victim's reputation or relationship with another person or organization. Cyber harassment — where an adult bullies a child online.

If a child is being bullied or is bullying others, what can be done? Victims are advised to seek help from an adult and get peer support. The victim needs to remember that the bully's behavior is not his fault. Bullies should receive counseling to help address the issue. Often, these individuals suffer from depression, have conduct disorders or need some support with social skills. Parents should support their children with consistent discipline and teach them not to participate. Parents can also urge schools to speak regularly with students and teachers about bullying and its consequences. An environment where students feel like they belong is more effective than punishment.

 

Dr. Lyle D. Smith is a pediatrician at Dodge City Medical Center.