By Jon-Paul Croom president of WellStar North Fulton Hospital
In recent years, national media has brought much attention to teen suicide and its correlation with bullying. If you think this is not also a local issue, you would be wrong. Our hospital emergency department sees far too many suicide attempts and deaths of our young people.
I suspect most of us have been bullied at some point in our lives. If you are my age or older, you probably heard “boys will be boys” or “kids just need to work it out themselves” or “it’s all part of growing up.” But, studies show that children being bullied and the bullies themselves are being affected in ways that can follow them well into adulthood. We also know that direct adult intervention to identify and stop bullying can make a significant difference in the lives of our children.
Bullying is the unwanted, aggressive behavior that includes two key factors:
• An imbalance of power: bullies may use physical strength, popularity, or access to embarrassing information to control or harm another child
• Repetition: these behaviors happen more than one time
Actions go far beyond the old cliché of being shaken down for lunch money. Bullying may include teasing, spreading rumors, embarrassing someone in public, purposefully excluding someone, or telling others not to be their friend. Of course, it may also include physical behavior such as hitting, pushing, or damaging one’s property.
These are all observable behaviors of bullying. But, on top of all that is the new phenomenon of cyber-bullying. This destructive behavior takes place over digital devices such as computers, phone texts, and social media applications such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and probably a dozen other sites I don’t even know exist. The challenge with this type of bullying is that it is not always obvious to adults and can be persistent 24/7. Where we pre-internet children could escape into our homes each day, cyber-bullying does not rest. According to one study, 21% of children 12–18 have been a recipient of this type of bullying.
So, what can we, as adults, do about it? Well, there are four main areas where we can make an impact:
- Help children understand bullying by discussing how to identify it, report it, and stand up to it. They also need to know which trusted adults they can go to for help.
- Keep lines of communication open by speaking with your children every day about what is going on in their lives. Ask them about their friendships and about bullying.
- Encourage children to do what they love. It is important for children to develop relationships with other children who share their interest in hobbies, sports, youth groups or clubs.
- Model how to treat others. Children learn how to act by watching our actions. As adults, we must show that we know how to treat one another with kindness and respect.
Here is my call for action. Go talk to your children about bullying right now. If you need help, a great website is Stop Bullying (and where I found most of the information for this article). Though October is National Bullying Prevention Month, this is something that requires constant vigilance. Each of us can truly make a difference in a child’s life. ❍