Bullying in Schools: Part 1: Know the Signs of Bullying

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According to a study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics[1] in 2015, 21.5% of students between the ages of 12 and 18 have experienced bullying in schools. Bullying is not a new problem; we all know that it has happened in the past, and we know it still happens in communities across the nation and across the world. The problem is that we don’t always know when and where bullying happens, and sometimes we don’t even know who is being bullied and by whom. Victims and witnesses of bullying rarely speak up and tell an adult[2]. As a result, addressing the problem becomes quite a challenge. As a parent, teacher, or administrator, you need to know the signs to watch out for if you want to determine how to prevent bullying.

Signs of Bullying: Who is Being Bullied?

Parents, teachers, and even other students should know the signs of someone who is being bullied. There are some more obvious indications, such as unexplainable injuries or damaged possessions. Most symptoms of bullying, however, are a bit more subtle. A child who “loses” possessions frequently may actually be facing a bully who is taking them away. Previous star students suddenly and consistently getting average or even failing grades may be losing interest in school because school has become a place of torment for them. These students also tend to visit the nurse’s office often or have trouble getting out of bed in the morning, complaining of headaches, stomachaches, or other mysterious illnesses. Bullied children will often try to find excuses to avoid going to or staying in school, where they have to face their tormentor. Parents and teachers should be on the lookout for frequent absences and falling grades.

Bullied students also tend to exhibit odd sleeping, eating, and/or bathroom habits. Teachers should watch for students who tend not to eat lunch; this may be due to the fact that a bully stole a student’s lunch or lunch money. The victims also may come home to parents and immediately start eating, and they may also ask for or even steal extra money or food to offset what the bully takes from them. They may have an inexplicable loss of appetite, or they may begin binge eating. These students also may wait until they get home to use the bathroom; character.org[3] suggests this is likely because school bathrooms “are not often adult supervised” and therefore “can be hot spots for bullying.” Children who are bullied often experience trouble sleeping and nightmares, and they may cry themselves to sleep or wet the bed.

Bullied students also exhibit signs of increased anxiety, moodiness, sadness, or depression, particularly upon coming home from school or social activities. As a result, they may lose interest in hanging out with friends, have a noticeably reduced friend group, and avoid group activities such as participating in clubs or sports. These kids may become clingy towards adults, wanting parents to pick them up right at dismissal or preferring to stick close to teachers at school, hoping to stop bullying by keeping close to those in authority. They feel helpless and face diminished self-esteem, often blaming themselves for problems because they believe they aren’t good enough, which also contributes to why they rarely tell adults about bullying, according to StopBullying.org[4].

Bullying can also lead to more severe problems, such as the victim becoming the bully, bullying younger children or siblings. They also may begin exhibiting self-destructive behaviors, like running away from home, self-harm, or talking about suicide.

What are the Signs of Bullying Others?

It’s not enough to just look out for kids who are being bullied. It is also vital to try to identify the signs of a child who is bullying others. Bullies are sometimes more outwardly aggressive than other children, getting into both physical and verbal fights often and showing hostility and defiance towards adults. They may show little regard for rules, and they are often sent to the principal’s office or receive detention. They lack empathy towards those who are bullied, and they often may have friends who bully others as well.

Bullies may have an outwardly positive attitude towards violence and the use of violent means to get what they want. They often seem to desire dominance over other students, and they care a great deal about their reputation. There are often more subtle signs as well, such as having money or new possessions of mysterious origin. They also tend to blame others for their problems and may not like to accept responsibility for their actions.

According to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children[5], , bullies are often at risk for substance abuse, academic issues, and continued violent behavior later in life. ViolencePreventionWorks.org[6] suggests that these bullies may escalate their violent behavior by acquiring a gun “for risky reasons, such as to gain respect or to frighten others.”

So What Do We Do with These Bullying Facts?

It is important to make sure that a child knows that if they go to a parent, teacher, or school counselor with the fact that they are being bullied, they will be believed and helped. Reassure them that you do care and they aren’t weak for speaking up. Bullied children may be afraid that adults will judge them or that they may face consequences from either the adult they tell or the bully. Make sure they know that they can come to you, and that, if they tell an adult and that adult doesn’t believe them or do anything, they need to keep telling someone until something gets done.

IIf you suspect there is bullying going on in your school, setting up a bullying survey to help determine types, locations, and other key issues may also be helpful in determining a more broad bullying solution, rather than working on a case-by-case basis. The first step in any anti-bullying initiative, though, is to know the facts about and signs of bullying. Read more about how to prevent and combat bullying in and out of schools in our multi-part series on Bullying in Schools.

[1] “Fast Facts: Bullying.” National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=719 on April 6, 2016.

[2] “Warning Signs.” StopBullying.gov. Retrieved from http://www.stopbullying.gov/at-risk/warning-signs/#ask on April 6, 2016.

[3] “19 Signs Your Child is Being Bullied and What to Do about It.” Character.org.

[4] “Warning Signs.” StopBullying.gov. Retrieved from http://www.stopbullying.gov/at-risk/warning-signs/ on April 6, 2016.

[5] “Bullying and Cyberbullying: Signs, Symptoms, and Effects.” National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Retrieved from https://www.nspcc.org.uk/preventing-abuse/child-abuse-and-neglect/bullying-and-cyberbullying/signs-symptoms-effects/ on April 6, 2016.

[6] “Warning Signs of Bullying.” ViolencePreventionWorks.org. Retrieved from http://www.violencepreventionworks.org/public/bullying_warning_signs.page on April 6, 2016.

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