FARGO, N.D. – In a recent survey, 74 percent of children 8 to 11 said teasing and bullying occur at their school. The percentage moved up to 86 percent when the same question was asked of children 12 to 15.
Both age groups listed bullying and teasing as a higher concern than the pressure to have sex, AIDS, racism or to try alcohol or drugs.
Bullying and taunting may have played a role in the recent fatal school shooting at Santana High School in Santee, Calif. A friend of the suspected shooter said the teen-ager was “picked on because he was the little kid.”
“Some studies suggest that around 20 percent of all American children have been the victim of bullying at some point in elementary school and about the same number have described themselves as engaging in some form of bullying behavior,” said Laura DeHaan, North Dakota State University associate professor of child development.
“Bullying can range from teasing, to stealing lunch money, to a group of students physically abusing a classmate.”
Signs of bullying.
DeHaan said it is sometimes difficult for children to talk to parents or teachers about being bullied. There are symptoms that a child might be a victim of bullying:
* acts moody, sullen, or withdraws from family interaction
* becomes depressed
* loses interest in school work, or grades drop
* loses appetite or has difficulty getting to sleep
* waits to use the bathroom at home
* arrives home with torn clothes, unexplained bruises
* asks for extra money for school lunch or supplies, extra allowance
* refuses to go to school (15 percent of all school absenteeism is directly related to fears of being bullied at school)
* wants to carry a protection item, such as a knife
Being bullied has both short-term and long-term effects according to DeHaan. In the short term, children may develop a strong dislike of going to school, especially times like recess or gym class.
Many victims begin to distrust all their peers at school and have problems making friends. In extreme cases, children can become depressed or suffer physical illness.
Long-term effects vary a great deal. Most victims of bullying do well in school and are able to make friends as they grow older, DeHann said.
Most victims, especially if they receive support from adults important in their lives, survive the experience of being bullied without long-term effects.
“It’s difficult because often the child doesn’t want you to talk to the teacher because they’re afraid that’s going to make it worse,” said DeHaan.
She encourages parents to sit down with their children and come up with a plan to deal with the problem.
That may involve talking to the child’s teacher or principal, finding ways to avoid bullies or learning what to say when confronted.
“Parents need to be sensitive to the situation when they become directly involved. A child should feel comfortable with any plan.”
DeHaan said parents should listen carefully, be patient and create an open environment.