If bullying seems more prevalent today, that’s because it is. Research shows that one in three students experienced some form of bullying during the 2017-18 school year—that’s up from 28 percent just two years ago. Unfortunately, victims of bullying may suffer from low self-esteem, anxiety, or depression issues that can last well beyond childhood.
Of course, parents want to help. But we often don’t know how. I turned to Fabian Ramirez, a bullying prevention expert, for guidance. Fabian, who was once a victim of bullying himself, regularly counsels parents, students, and teachers on ways to combat this troubling trend.
He shared three ways parents can support a child who is being bullied:
- Understand What Bullying Is – and What It Isn’t
Some students, especially younger kids, hear the term “bullying” and believe that’s what they’re experiencing. But Fabian says there’s a difference between teasing and bullying. Most kids, he said, have experienced some form of teasing – occasional name-calling, mocking, and the like. This is simply a part of childhood.
“If everyone is having a good time and no one is getting hurt, it’s highly likely that it’s teasing,” he said.
Also, sometimes kids just have bad days and they don’t know how to express themselves appropriately, so they take it out on a classmate. If this only happens once, Fabian defines this as a “mean moment.”
On the other hand, bullying occurs when a student is being socially, emotionally or physically attacked on purpose, with malicious intent, and on a regular, ongoing basis.
“One of the best questions a parent can ask is, ‘how many times has this happened?’” Fabian says. “If it happened one time then we can nip it in the bud and chalk it up to a mean moment. But if it’s three or four times, now it’s bullying behavior because the student is being repeatedly targeted.”
- Communicate Openly and Honestly With Your Child
In this age of 24/7 digital entertainment, many parents struggle to have open conversations with their children. But Fabian says, keep trying! By asking specific questions about their day every day, students generally feel more confident to talk about problems at school or if other kids are hurting them. Every student should have at least one or two loving adults around them with whom they feel comfortable detailing exactly what’s going on in their lives.
“When kids don’t talk out, they act out,” Fabian says. “The last thing we want is for our kids to end up doing something they regret.”
That includes becoming a bully. Many bullies were actually victims of bullying first. People who have been hurt often end up hurting other people, Fabian explains.
“It’s natural for somebody who has been hurt to transfer their hurt onto someone else. It’s a vicious cycle when you don’t get help,” he said.
- Explain That Reporting Isn’t Snitching
Many students are afraid to tell someone they are being bullied because they fear retaliation. But Fabian encourages parents and students to think about it differently. Kids often believe they’re protecting themselves by not disclosing the names of their bullies. The opposite is actually true.
“They’re actually becoming more vulnerable because once a bully knows they can get away with hurting you, they start thinking about how else they can hurt you, because they already know you’re not going to do anything about it,” Fabian says.
Some kids also fear being labeled a snitch if they report their bully to a teacher or principal. But there’s an important difference between snitching and reporting, as Fabian explains: “A snitch tells the truth so that someone can get in trouble; when you report, you tell the truth so that someone can get the help they need.”
To learn more of Fabian’s tips, check out his anti-bullying webinar presented by K12 on November 8. Many families choose to enroll their students in online school to escape bullying. The virtual classroom becomes a safe haven where students can regain their self-confidence without worrying when their bully will strike next. At K12, we are proud to be able to provide them with the safe environment they need.
Amy Boyd is the National Family Program Director at K12 Inc.