A number of kid-friendly books and movies address the topic of bullying and might be helpful in starting a conversation with your kids. Some of Dr. Leipsic’s favorites include:
- “The Berenstein Bears and the Bully,” paperback in the Berenstein Bears series
- “Cyberbully,” an ABC Family movie
- “An American Girl: Chrissa Stands Strong,” book and movie in the American Girl series
Back-to-school season gives parents and kids a lot to think about – new classroom supplies, goodies for sack lunches, the all-important first-day outfit. It’s also a good time for parents to talk to their children about the kind of social interactions they might encounter at school, says Dr. John Leipsic, assistant clinical professor of child psychiatry at the University of Arizona.
Leipsic, a father of three school-age girls and director of pediatric psychiatric consultation services at The University of Arizona Medical Center, recently shared some tips for parents on how to talk to their kids about one of the most age-old problems on the playground – bullying.
Q: Bullying has been a hot topic in the media. Is the problem on the rise?
A: I don’t think bullying is on the rise, but there’s more media attention to it, and that’s a good thing. It’s always existed and probably always will, but I’m glad that there’s more attention being paid to it because we see it impacting kids’ mental health.
Q: When should parents talk to their kids about bullying?
A: I think they should talk to them as soon as they go to school. The best thing you can do is educate your kids about it so they know that they’re not alone. Tell your kids to recognize it and that they don’t have to put up with it if it’s making them uncomfortable. Knowledge is power, so if kids know that it’s out there and they could be subjected to this kind of thing, then they’re prepared for it and they know how to recognize it.
Q: What should a child do if confronted by a bully?
A: The best advice is to try to stand up for yourself, but get backup. I’m a proponent of teaching your kids to stand up for themselves as best as they can, but at the point that the child feels endangered by a bully, they have to tell an adult – a bus driver, teacher, school counselor, principal or their parents – as soon as they can. There’s only so much that kids can do on their own. Another technique to stop bullying is to train other kids to intervene. If a bully is attacking a kid on the playground and other kids are feeding into it, then he’s going to feel empowered. A technique to stop bullying in the schoolyard is to empower the community of kids to stand up for the underdog. If the bully is attacking somebody, and other kids in the schoolyard say, “That’s not OK, and that’s not acceptable,” then you can get the bully to back off.
Q: What should a parent do if their child tells them they’re being bullied?
A: They should let the school know.
Q: Are there different types of bullying that children should be prepared for?
A: There’s elementary school bullying, middle school bullying and high school bullying. Elementary school is when kids are starting to learn their social relational skills, and it tends to be more of what we call “playground politics,” but around fifth grade, it starts to get a little bit more intense and serious. From what I’ve heard and seen clinically, the middle school bullying really accelerates, and there are two different types of bullying: Girls tend to bully more from triangulation and by social backhandedness, whereas boys are more overt in their aggression and would rather just duke it out and get it over with. So boys are more physically aggressive and girls are more socially aggressive, using social alliances to be either inclusive or exclusive.
Q: What about cyberbullying?
A: When people are online they feel as if they have free rein to say whatever they want, and it’s not like saying it to somebody’s face. But what happens online is just as real and just as hurtful as what happens offline. If parents are empowering their kids with technology, they need to supervise it – monitor the email, monitor the social networking accounts, monitor the texts, and so on. There’s a really good website, stopcyberbullying.org – and I encourage people to take a look at that.
Q: What kind of lasting effects can bullying have on a child?
A: It can be devastating. It can lead to depression, suicide attempts, self-injury, low self-esteem and isolation. We see kids all the time at the Crisis Response Center, or in clinic, who have been bullied, and we see kids in the emergency room who have made suicide attempts after some form of bullying. That’s why we teach our kids not to just take it and keep it inside, but to tell somebody about it. The bully wants to isolate, and by isolating, he or she gets more power over the person, and long-term consequences are very serious. The biggest consequences are a sense of disempowerment and a feeling that the bully is winning.