He is the child sitting alone at the lunch table with his head held low. Her clothes are a little worn and maybe a little dirty or smelly too. She talks or walks in a different manner. We know these kids. We see them every day. We pass their families in the grocery store. We move past them to drop our kids off at the bus stop or at school. We huff and walk quickly past or give a wide berth when they are ahead of us. We are compassionate people, but what message do we send to our children by the way we respond to them? Children are masters at interpreting not only our words, but our body language, tone of voice, and unspoken thoughts that play out over our faces. How we respond to these situa-tions influences how our children will respond not only today but also throughout their lives. Given the current bullying epidemic in the Unit-ed States, our response in these situations is very important. While we may not be directly or indirectly bullying these children and families, our behavior regarding them teaches our children about appropriate social interaction and behaviors. By altering our responses, we can have a lasting impact on our children’s responses and, over the long term, the bullying epidemic.
Bullying, as defined by stopbullying.gov, is repeated, unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. Bullying occurs throughout all age groups and in various settings, including but not limited to in person and via social media. The 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System indicated that nationwide, 20% of 9-12 graders have experienced bullying. Based on the easy access to social media and rise in the rate of bullying, this number is likely much higher. In fact, DoSomething.org claims that 90% of children in grades 4-8 have been bullied at some point in their life. Bullying is not unique to the pediatric population. On a survey conducted by CareerBuilder.com in 2012, 35% of workers surveyed stated that they had been victims of bullying at their jobs.
Although bullying can happen to anyone, those with special needs, alternative preferences, or low socio-economic status are most at risk. Bullying can take many forms and occurs in a variety of ways, including verbal, social, and physical. Bullying can have far reaching effects on all parties involved, including not only the bully, but also the victims and bystanders. Kids who are bullied are more likely to experience depression, social anxiety, health complaints, and poor academic achievement. Kids who bully others are more likely to engage in risk taking behaviors such as substance abuse and violence. Interestingly, those who witness bullying are also impacted. Statistically they also have higher rates of substance abuse, mental illness, and lower academic achievement.
So what can we, as parents, do to help stop this epidemic? Change must start with us. We have enormous power over how our children respond to others. We need to be aware of both our spoken and unspoken reaction to others in our environment. We need to make certain that our response is the same response that we would like for our children to have. This monitoring of and, if needed change to, the way he behave is the best gift that we can give ourselves and our children this holiday season. Let’s strive to treat every person around us as a precious gift that is to be celebrated. When we see someone struggling, we should reach out to help. A simple hello or a kind word and smile can go a long way to brighten someone’s day and to help our children see that love and kindness is critical to happiness for all of us.