No Child Left Unbullied?

Filed under: Bullying, Research Reveals: Big Kids, Research Reveals: Tweens, Research Reveals: Teens

Bullying is everywhere right now. The playground. The locker room. The chat room. The national news.

It's also on every parenting website, most state legislatures and even the calendar (October was National Bullying Prevention Month). Hurry, you might still find a bracelet.

Of course bullying is cruel and intolerable. Don't get me wrong, I applauded the dad who walked onto the bus with a bat to threaten the kids teasing his daughter with cerebral palsy. The recent suicides of teenagers who'd been tormented deserve every bit of outrage. I still shudder thinking of the mean girls from high school. I'm no friend of bullying. But the sheer volume of attention makes it seem no kid is safe anywhere, anytime. Surveys show most parents worry about it.

But before you start homeschooling your kids, let's get a few things straight.

Experts have no idea if bullying is on the rise, let alone epidemic. Some think it's decreasing. No one much bothered studying it until the 1990s. The first national survey didn't come out until 2001, when 8.5 percent said they were bullied "sometimes." Nearly a decade later, the numbers are all over the place, literally and figuratively -- from Japan to Norway, kindergarten to college, and name-calling to slapping. Most studies now find that around 25 percent of kids get bullied on a somewhat regular basis.

Then of course there's cyberbullying -- harassment via emails, instant messages, social media networks and other platforms many of us adults cannot identify. It's increasing if only because kids plug in more often. Most bullying still happens the old fashioned way -- a shove, a spit wad, an insult during gym. A recent study found more than 50 percent of kids were involved in traditional bullying, while only 13 percent were involved in cyberbullying. But online bullying seems particularly hurtful. Cyberbullied kids were more depressed than their offline counterparts. Maybe because personal attacks reach larger audiences via Facebook and email, the humiliation played over and over by anonymous co-conspirators. Online bullies were less depressed than offline ones. Apparently kids don't have to feel as miserable to taunt in cyberspace where it's easier to be mean.

And another thing -- not all kids get bullied. Being different and vulnerable makes kids targets, whether it's an accent, sexual orientation, physical disability, or even a peanut allergy (no joke, read it). Researchers talk about bullying as the relatively strong harassing the weak, even though they often throw everybody into the stats without checking if the so-called victims are prom queens or social outcasts.

Sure, some psychologists find we've gotten meaner and lost valuable social skills like empathy, but it's also possible we're getting more sensitive to minor slights. The term "helicopter parent" didn't just spring out of nowhere while we were worrying about breast-feeding, vaccines, No. 7 plastics, pre-academic skills and shuttling our precious cargo to soccer, occupational therapy and an endless string of inclusive (no hurt feelings!) birthday parties. No wonder we mistake poor behavior for bullying.

Now take a deep breath, go get that high school year book and make peace with those mean girls!

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.