Did you know…
The number one cause of teen suicide is bullying?
Or that millions, literally millions, of students are bullied each year, but only an approximate 30-40% will talk about it? Were you aware that 71% of students recognize bullying as a problem, and nearly all feel the school isn’t handling it appropriately? 90% of fourth through eighth graders have felt bullied.
I’ve heard parents blow it off – “When I was in school it just meant people didn’t like you.” “Millennial’s are so oversensitive to this stuff.” “It’s a great opportunity for kids to learn how to work things out.”
Except, it’s not. Let me hit you with some science, because science can’t lie. Social stress leads to heightened immune response. Dysregulation of the immune system is directly linked to mental illnesses like depression and anxiety. Early research suggests that the psychiatric disorders linked to chronic stress from bullying can change increase aggression, essentially turning the victims into victimizers. All of this has been tested multiple times through studies with the Society of Neuroscience.
Bullying can literally alter stress hormone levels produced in the body. Corticosterone levels, directly related to substance abuse, dramatically increase. It’s been studied through rats and is visible on human brain scans. The stress center of the brain “lights up” for bullying.
By ignoring bullying we’re breeding the next generation of bullies.
So, what is bullying, exactly? We certainly can’t fix a problem we don’t understand.
Stopbullying.gov explains bullying as “… unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.”
Understanding and identifying bullying is relatively simple, once we accept that it exists and start looking for it. The difficulty lies in how to change it.
Here are some tips:
Start young! Teach your children their value from the moment they’re born. Teach them to self-affirm regularly. I am smart. I am tough. I am loved. I am enough. Read them stories that teach validation. Help them understand that self-doubt is normal, but it doesn’t define them. Try the book You’ll Always Be Enough, found HERE.
Lead by example. Children are little sponges. They’re absorbing everything you say and do. Show kindness and compassion to others at every opportunity.
Arm them with information about bullying, what it is, and how to handle it. Educate yourself, too.
Ask them, regularly. Never assume they’ll just come to you. In most cases, they won’t. They may even go to great lengths to hide it.
As they grow, teach your kids to stand firmly against bullying and never to ignore it. Often, other kids will join in, too. Someone just has to speak first. Encourage your kids to talk to you or another authority figure if they’re concerned about a pattern of behavior they’re witnessing. We, as adults, cannot fix something we don’t know about.
Most importantly, If you suspect bullying – advocate. Advocate hard. Shout it to the rooftops until someone listens.
My oldest child was bullied in elementary school. When I learned of it, I reached out to the faculty and got confirmation. Then, I talked to the parents of the bullies and had my daughter start meeting with a counselor.
When the parents responded with their own passive-aggressive behavior I moved to the pastors of the church and school. When their attempts failed, we approached the school board.
When the school board couldn’t solve the problem, we left the school.
Thankfully, the teachers were well aware of the behavior and did everything in their power to curb it. They were incredibly supportive through the entire process.
We were lucky. In many cases you’ll be fighting a battle no one wants to join. But, someone has to fight it. I pledge to fight that battle. I pledge to spread the facts and figures, and advocate for anyone who needs me it.