How Bullying Affects Your Child

On January 14, 2010, 15-year-old Phoebe Prince committed suicide. The Irish-born student, who was living in Massachusetts at the time, became a prominent symbol of the tragic consequences of bullying. Though not every bullying story ends like this, it's essential that parents understand how bullying can affect children.

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The Psychological Damage

In times past, bullying was accepted as a normal part of childhood. Children who were bullied weren't seen as victims; instead, they were often told to toughen up or face their bullies. In recent years, the psychological effects of bullying have become more widely understood. While suicide, as happened with Phoebe Prince, is the most heartbreaking consequence of bullying, you should be aware of other signs that your child may be a victim.

Bullies often look for a weakness or difference to exploit. For example, overweight children are commonly ridiculed over their weight while homosexual children are often bullied over their sexual orientation. The bullying can damage self-esteem, which may already be low due to the issue that causes the bullying.

Children who are bullied are likely to be overly nervous and feel shameful. In addition to impacting their behavior, bullying can have ramifications on their school performance. Watch for grades that inexplicably fall or reports of erratic behavior from teachers. Bullied children also tend to withdraw from activities, including sports, clubs and hobbies. This removal is a form of trying to go unnoticed and become invisible.

Over time, bullying can inhibit social development. As bullied children avoid activities that draw attention to themselves, from volunteering an answer in class to playing on a team, they miss out on important parts of the school experience. This problem has lasting effects beyond the end of school. As adults, children who suffered from bullying are likely to have difficulty trusting others, suffering from an insecurity that can impact all forms of relationships.

How to Help

While your natural inclination as a parent may be to step in, recognize that your intervention may not always help. First, bullying can be profoundly difficult for many kids to talk about. Admitting they're being bullied is often a major challenge. In many cases, having your child talk with a professional therapist is more effective than trying to confront the issue yourself. It's important not to push a child further into his or her shell, which makes any type of confrontation difficult.

If you suspect your child is the target of bullying, try to provide resources that your child can explore on his or her own. This can be an outlet for your child to understand that he or she isn't alone. Websites for anti-bullying organizations, such as Make Beats, Not Beat Downs can be great starting points in the search for support. By sharing this information with your child, you can provide a link to crisis hotlines and other types of critical aid.

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