By Tiffany Harper, LCSW, Courier & Press, July 11, 2017 –
When people think of bullying, they often picture physical bullying, such as knocking books out of someone’s hands, tripping them or intimidating them. Bullying can also take other forms, however.
Social bullying, also known as relational aggression, is a form of bullying that has grown with the boom of social media and cell phones. It is relational in nature and causes harm by damaging someone’s social status. It is often done covertly to avoid detection by adults.
Examples of social bullying are:
- Posting about someone on social media, directly or indirectly naming the victim
- Texting rude or negative comments
- Excluding someone from a peer group
- Refusing to allow a peer to sit with one’s group
- Convincing others not to be friends with a peer
- Starting and/or spreading rumors
- Indirect communication directed at a peer such as eye rolling, laughing
This type of bullying is more common in females and can start as early as kindergarten. Today’s society has displayed social bullying as entertainment in movies such as “Mean Girls,” where it is glorified but then neatly resolved in the end. This does not usually happen in real life.
Victims can struggle emotionally with negative effects, including depression, social anxiety, hostility and low self-esteem. There can be large shifts in one’s social network, as this type of bullying often results in loss of friends. This can be devastating to a young person, as their focus shifts from family to friends during adolescence.
If you find your child in a situation like this, be aware that the innate desire to protect your child could cause you to act quickly and impulsively and ask questions later. Since it is important to develop and maintain an open and trusting relationship with your child, it is imperative to react slowly and carefully. Whether you found out about your child’s bullying on your own or your child opened up, your response can be instrumental in getting them to talk further.
Listening with empathy is the first step. Allow your child to tell you what has been going on and try to ask any questions you have with controlled emotion. Avoid placing blame or giving your perspective right away.
When you feel you have a good understanding of the situation, focus in on emotions. Ask how your child has reacted and how they feel. It can be difficult to hear that your child is being mistreated. Continue to stay calm and focus on understanding and support.
Deciding what action to take is the next step and often the most difficult. It is important to make this decision with your child. Jumping in too soon with solutions can be overwhelming and unwelcome. Your child may just need a safe place to process the situation. This may be enough, and they may even ask that you take a step back and let them try to handle it on their own.
They may decide to try things such as communicating with the bully, ignoring the behavior, focusing on other friendships or accessing support through friends or adults (i.e. teacher, school counselor). Supporting this option may be difficult, but there is a lot of empowerment to be gained if this solution works. Check in with your child frequently to assess if progress is being made.
It is important to note that if your child is in a situation where the bullying continues, they are unsafe or being physically threatened, allowing them to handle it alone may not be the best option. Similarly, if your child shows signs of depression or you see behavioral changes, you may need to consult with a mental health professional.
It is common for youth to avoid adult intervention, as they often believe this could make matters worse. Continue communicating with your child to get their input, but use your judgment as to when adults need to become involved. If the bullying occurs at school, talk with a school counselor, Youth First social worker or administrator.
Most importantly, make sure your child has someone to talk to. Whether it is you or another trusted adult, emotional support is always needed.