School bullying is damaging and dangerous and not always obvious. It is distinct from interpersonal conflicts or ‘rough play” and while disagreement, teasing and conflict are part of growing up, bullying is an extreme form of peer conflict or teasing and can be harmful both physically and psychologically.
The Australian Institute of Family Studies researched school bullying over many years and recognise that it’s a world-wide problem across gender, race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status. It is prevalent in all grades and all schools. The intention of bullying is to put the victim in distress in some way, to seek power.
Majority of bullying definitions include all, or most of, the following elements:
- intentional hurtfulness
- abuse of power and
Examples of school bullying include:
- physical fighting, name calling, social exclusion, spreading rumours and gossip or distribution of hurtful or embarrassing messages or pictures
- It can take place in face-to-face encounters, through written words such as notes or digital and social media
In the USA Rosalind Wiseman, author, educator and bullying expert has spent years working with teachers and parents on how to decrease bullying.
She has an exhaustive list of best selling books: “Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and the New Realities of Girl World” that later became a hit movie Mean Girls, “Masterminds & Wingmen: Helping Our Boys Cope with Schoolyard Power, Locker-Room Tests, Girlfriends, and the New Rules of Boy World”, which addresses the social lives of boys, a free companion eBook for high school boys “The Guide: Managing Jerks, Recruiting Wingmen, and Attracting Who You Want”.
More recently, Wiseman developed a curriculum entitled “Owning Up: Empowering Adolescents to Confront Social Cruelty, Bullying, and Injustice”. It is intended for anyone between the 6th and 12th grades and the structured program provides insight on how to prevent bullying—whether it is homophobia, racism, classism, or any other form of youth violence.
How grandparents can help
However Rosalind has also acknowledged that grandparents can play a vital role in support of their grandchildren. Sometimes it is too difficult for children to tell their parents and Rosalind says grandparents can “be a safe haven for their grandchildren”. She has provided some guidelines to help understand and recognise if your grandchild may be subjected to bullying:
Five signs to recognise if your grandchild may be bullied:
- They act up or skip school
A dramatic drop in your grandchild’s grades and an increased anxiety about going to school can be signs of bullying. As we know, troubling behaviour is usually a cry for help. “Your grandchild lives in a very different world,” Wiseman says, “and just because bullying has been happening forever doesn’t mean it’s right.”
- They bring it up
Wiseman says, children most often confide in a grandparent, since they see you as a comfort zone. What kids typically do is briefly mention the problem to you, she adds. “They’ll say something very general to grandparents, something like, ‘The kids are teasing me.’” If they begin to open up, it’s important that you don’t overreact. Instead ask them for more details, like: “Can you tell me more specifically what is being said to you?” Once you get a clear picture of what’s happening, you can create a plan of action together more easily.
- They stop participating in their usual activities
Although kids can, and do, change their minds, a sudden disengagement from sports or a favourite hobby could mean trouble is brewing. “There’s always a good reason why kids do what they do,” Wiseman adds. “It might be annoying to you or their parents if they ‘miss’ the bus every day. But chances are, they would rather [ask for a ride] (and take the heat from you), than take the bus to school if they’re getting bullied.”
- They suddenly don’t want to be around their friends
According to Wiseman, dropping friends is a red flag. “If they swap out friends or suddenly stop hanging out with someone, then there’s a reason,” she says. It could be that your grandchild decided he or she doesn’t like his group of friends anymore—but it’s also possible that the decision was made for them by the other kids.
- Their online habits have changed or increased
Digital harassment is becoming a pervasive element of bullying. With the increased use of social media at home and on mobile phones and devices, cyber bullying is becoming the bullying norm. “Grandparents did not grow up with no privacy and 24/7 access to the nasty things other children say about them,” Wiseman notes. But don’t rush to limit your grandkids’ Internet and phone access or add blockers. “It won’t stop it,” she says. Instead, take a step back, and hear them out, then devise a solution together.
Acknowledgements: Australian Institute of Family Studies, Rosalind Wiseman, culturesofdignity.com, grandparents.com