Bullying doesn't stop at the school gates

'Stop bullying' written in a journal. Photo by Dee Copper

Bullying doesn’t stop at the school gates

The start of a new school year can be a distressing time for a child. Whether they are returning to school and joining a new year-group, or starting in a completely new school, children of all ages naturally worry about new teachers, new lessons, fitting in and making friends. So when a child becomes a victim of bullying, it can create huge stress for a child, his friends, and his family.

An estimated 1.5 million young people were reported to have been bullied last year, and a worrying 33% of those admitted to bullying leading to them having suicidal thoughts. Those are pretty big statistics. It’s a major concern, and even though bullying in itself is not a new phenomenon, the rise in children being exposed to social media has meant that it is now more difficult for a victim of bullying to escape it, even at home.

Parents and teachers are not always immediately aware when a child is being bullied, and because the sufferer doesn’t always ask for help, they can become more withdrawn, making them feel isolated, often ashamed or embarrassed to come forward.

Looking out for signs of changes in behaviour can alert to problems; a previously happy and fun-loving child may suddenly become moody and easily upset, begin to stop wanting to go out with friends, and make excuses to skip school or lessons. Bullying can sometimes have a longer-lasting impact too, in some cases impacting on a child’s life as they grow into adulthood, creating problems with anxiety, depression, and phobias.

In general, children who are bullied often have fewer friendships and are less likely to be accepted by their peers, because friends might avoid hanging around for fear of being bullied themselves. This can lead to the child not doing so well in school, and becoming wary of being in social situations in general, because they feel that they don’t fit in and are not liked.

Cyber bullying is also a growing problem, especially for teens, who spend much of their time on social media, messaging apps, chat rooms, and online gaming. All of these channels, which for the most part are a positive influence on a child’s social life, can quickly go badly wrong when bullying becomes an issue. Words, when published on the internet in whatever form are more lasting, and more public. A negative message can go viral almost instantly, and can lead to a level of shame and embarrassment which isolates a child further.

Whatever the method, it is vital that children know where to turn for support, and that they can openly talk about problems with bullying, in or out of school. The internet is rich with resources on how to tackle bullying issues, and parents who are concerned about their children being bullied are able to go to any number of websites to seek advice.

Educating ourselves on the types, effects, and ways to prevent bullying is a good first step in recognising the problem and being open about it with our children is particularly important. Simply having one person who understands and is willing to listen can make the biggest difference to a child who is worried about bullying or is already being bullied.

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