More and more, we hear about bullying in the news. You might even hear about bullying at your child’s school. Although bullying has become a national problem, parents are often in the dark about what actions to take when it happens to their child—or when their child bullies others.

What can parents really do about bullying? What are the signs to watch for? Here are ten myths—and truths—that may help you if you have to deal with bullying.

  1. You’ll know when your child is being bullied.

    Just because your child doesn’t tell you he or she is being bullied, it doesn’t mean it’s not happening. In 2007 almost a third of middle and high schoolers said they’d been bullied at school. And those are the ones who admitted it. Many kids don’t speak up because they think that will lead to more abuse — or that there’s an unwritten code that kids shouldn’t tell.

    If you notice that your child comes home with torn clothing; starts complaining about going to school; has unexplained bruises, cuts, and scratches; or seems depressed and socially isolated, these are signs of bullying. If you suspect bullying, keep talking with your child and go to the school for help. Talk with your child’s teacher, a school administrator, or a school counselor to see if they’ve noticed anything and, if so, work with them to deal with the problem sooner rather than later.

  2. Bullying is always physical.

    Bullying is when one child regularly bothers or harasses another child. This can include verbal bullying, like name-calling, teasing, and using threatening language. Or physical abuse, like punching, shoving, hitting, and spitting. It can be electronic too, via texting and the Internet. There’s also a gray area. Is it bullying when a child is excluded from a game? Not necessarily. But if your child is regularly left out, by all means talk with the teacher. (Check out the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program for a more detailed explanation of bullying.)

  3. Fight back and you solve the problem.

    Many kids believe (especially if their parents tell them) that hitting back is the best way to put a stop to bullying. Although hitting back might bring a moment of satisfaction, it can lead to more fighting and often makes the situation worse. Instead, tell your child:

    • Tell an adult. Make sure your child knows to let an adult know what’s happening, whether it’s a coach, a teacher, or you.

    • Don’t react. Encourage your child not to cry, stop walking, or acknowledge the bully in any way. ” If your child responds, the bully will feed on it. If the bully is left hanging, she or he will end up looking silly.

  4. Bullies are the most popular kids at school.

    Sometimes this is true. But often kids who bully are victims of some sort of abuse themselves, or they’re going through other difficult problems at home, like divorce or violence. This leaves them feeling helpless. Kids who bully can’t deal with having no power in their lives. So what do they do? Get power the only way they can. It’s also possible that bullies have learning disorders that get in the way of their ability to control their actions.

    Either way, the kid who bullies feels a lack of control in his or her own life. In other words: Hurt people hurt people.

    School administrators who understand these causes can step in and help with bullying problems by counseling bullies as well as victims.

  5. Parents have nothing to do with their kids who bullies.

    Parents often pave the way for bullying behavior in kids when they don’t teach their children to respect differences in people. If parents talk disparagingly about other groups of people or tell racist, sexist, or homophobic jokes, the message they’re sending is: “All people are not alike, and some are better than others.” So be aware of what you say at home—and how it can translate into bullying behavior in your child at school.

  6. If your child is a victim, call the bully’s parents.

    Bully experts say parents of kids who are bullied should not contact the bully’s parents. The situation, already difficult and emotional, often gets worse when parents try to work it out. Instead, start with the school. Most schools have an anti-bullying policy that outlines the steps for dealing with bullies. Talk with the teacher and principal first. Then figure out the next steps together.

  7. Boys are more likely to be bullied.

    In a 2007 survey, almost 34 percent of girls reported being bullied, compared with 31 percent of boys. Although boys often bully in a physical way, girls’ style of bullying tends to be more indirect. Girls bully by making things uncomfortable and excluding their victims from play and social groups at school. They also may spread rumors, which can be painful and embarrassing for the victim

    And because it’s so easy to spread a rumor or make threats, mean-girl bullying can do a lot of damage—without the physical clues for parents to pick up on. If your daughter is acting sad, depressed, and moody and doesn’t want to go to school, talk to her about bullying.

  8. Online bullying starts online.

    Actually, most bullying starts in person, with face-to-face bullying. Later it moves to “cyber-bullying” — like texting, social media, and YouTube — which can make the harassment and humiliation with more hurtful. As news stories have reported, there have been scores of children committing suicide after being the victims of cyber-bullying. So try your best to stop bullying before it goes online. And if your child is being bullied online? Take it seriously! Report it to the school, and if physical threats have been made, get copies of the messages and report them to the police. Also, tell your child to come to you if he or she sees cyber-bullying happening to another kid.

  9. Parents are the first, and best, person to help their child who’s being bullied.

    Experts say too many parents don’t take their kids’ reports of being bullied seriously. Teachers and other school staff also sometimes don’t listen to a child’s report of being bullied. So, again, take bullying seriously. For starters, if you see or hear about your own child bullying, give your child consequences.

    As for parents of bully victims, remember that these kids need all the support they can get. Victims of regular abuse have had their self-esteem chipped away, while their sense of powerlessness has skyrocketed. They need to be told that this isn’t their fault — they didn’t cause the problem. They aren’t damaged. The bully is.

  10. Schools aren’t responsible for bullying.

    Bullying has become such a national problem that 45 states have passed anti-bully laws. These lays require schools to act when it’s reported.

    Even so, some schools still aren’t taking bullying seriously. So if you’re concerned about bullying at your child’s school, check that the school has an anti-bully policy and a system for dealing with bullying. If you’re unsure what your school’s policy is, talk with the administration or check the school’s website. Let the school know that the safety of your child is important to you.

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