Back to school: Bullying is a fact of life, but you can arm your kids with love, support & resources

CINCINNATI - As parents help their kids prepare for a new school year, they may want to consider more than school supply lists. With bullying grabbing headlines, there are resources to help parents, schools and students.

“It is the new season with schools. It’s a very passionate time for us,” said Todd Schobel, founder of the anti-bullying app Stop!t.

What classifies as bullying?

According to Stopbullying.gov, bullying is “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance” and is “repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.” Stopbullying.gov groups bullying behaviors into three categories:

1. Verbal bullying can be spoken or written and includes name-calling, taunting and threatening.
2. Social bullying is hurting someone’s reputation or relationships. Some types of social bullying are leaving someone out on purpose, spreading rumors about someone or embarrassing someone in public.
3. Physical bullying includes hitting, spitting and taking or breaking someone’s things.

Electronic harassment

Cyberbullying has become a sad new twist twist on verbal and social bullying and is becoming increasingly common.

“The traditional schoolyard bullying is being surpassed by cyberbullying,” Schobel said.

Cyberbullying is repeated electronic harassment and can include sending threatening or offensive messages or images, exploiting others and teasing.

According to McAfee’s 2014 Teens and the Screen study, cyberbullying tripled in the past year. The data show that 87 percent of youth have witnessed cyberbullying. Last year, 27 percent of youth reported that they had witnessed cyberbullying.

One factor contributing to the increase of this breed of bullying is that tweens (10 to 12-year-olds) are getting into the social media mix, Schobel said. Often multiple electronic devices are freely accessible in households with kids who are 10 and, in some cases, younger. The prevalence of anonymous websites and apps like Yik Yak also make it easier for users to bully others without being identified.  

RELATED: 15 sites and apps kids are heading to beyond Facebook

How do you know?

Some indications that a child is being bullied include withdrawal, changes in sleeping patterns and not wanting to go to school.

Teachers should keep an eye out for students who are agitated in class or whose behavior seems different than normal, said Dennis Smith, Lakota East High School Assistant Principal. Anxiety and changes in behavior are things parents can watch for as well, he added.

Kids who are bullied may have suicidal thoughts, Schobel said. Giving away precious items is one sign an individual may be considering taking their own life. According to Sgt. Tom Rich, cyber safety expert for Stop!t, youths who are bullying others often will show signs of it through withdrawal and changes in friends.

“They show very similar characteristics to kids who have been bullied,” he said. Many kids who are bullied have been bullied before, either at home or by other children. “A lot of times, the kids are just looking to get attention."

Bullying can negatively affect kids, especially those with slight depression or other undiagnosed mental disorders, Schobel said.

“They can very quickly go into a deep, dark place."

When youths are self-medicating through substance abuse, taking their own lives, skipping school or going to school and not learning because they are distracted, it disrupts the learning environment and affects the community.

What to do about bullying

If a parent suspects his or her child is being bullied, they should communicate with school officials and seek professional assistance from a counselor or therapist, Schobel said.

When bullying incidents are brought to the attention of an administrator or counselor at Lakota East High School, the school official will get a student statement, talk with the alleged bully and begin an investigation. If the incident occurred in a classroom, the administrator or counselor will notify the teacher as well.

“We take bullying real serious,” Smith said.

Although parents cannot always prevent bullying, they can help their children be prepared to face threats.

“One of the big things parents can do is to monitor their kids’ social media interactions,” Smith said.

When youths are involved in social media, their parents should know their passwords. Parents should only use the passwords if they have cause for concern, and whenever possible, they should still monitor what their kids are doing, Schobel said.

More tips:

  • Having discussions with kids and letting them know they can talk to their parents about something they’ve seen online that makes them uncomfortable is vital, he added.
  • It is important for children to be able to trust that their parents will not take away their electronic devices if bullying occurs.
  • Parents should be involved and begin educating their children early about bullying and appropriate social media behaviors.

Although not all children will experience bullying directly, parents can prepare their kids “be upstanders, not bystanders,” by reporting bullying when they see it happening to others, Schobel said.

RELATED A pie in the face of bullies: Ohio parody quartet throws talents behind an anti-cyberbullying app

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