ISSUE SPOTLIGHT: One in Five Children Reports Being Bullied at School in the Last Year
Bullying is a painful problem for many children and teens, and one that children with mental health and other disabilities are especially likely to encounter. Bullying is different from teasing. It is the continued aggressive behavior by one or more individuals that makes another person feel uncomfortable or threatened. Bullying is intended to cause physical or psychological harm to the target.
Nationally, one in five children reports being bullied at school in the last year, and another 16 percent have been harassed online, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). A CDC survey also found that 6 percent of children and teens did not go to school at least once in the previous month because they were concerned for their safety.
The surge of cell phones and other technology means that victims no longer find refuge at home. Cyberbullying, which is defined as bullying through electronic communication, including the Internet, social media, or text messaging, is pervasive and harmful. Those who are bullied electronically may feel that their humiliation is on display to everyone. Many children who are bullied do not tell their parents, and some continue to view websites and applications that cause them distress.
Signs of bullying include:
- Anxiety or fearfulness; avoidance of school and social settings
- Behavioral changes; a previously happy child who seems sullen, angry, or upset
- Complaints of headaches, stomachaches or nausea when nothing is wrong
- Drop in grades
- Unexplained bruising, damaged clothing or missing school books or possessions
Being bullied has been linked to low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and, in worst-case situations, even suicide. Bullying can disrupt a child’s normal social, emotional and academic development, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Psychotherapy can help children deal with the emotional and functional impact of bullying.
Illinois law provides protections against bullying whether it occurs on school property or outside of school and, in some cases, allows the parents of children who bully others to be held responsible for harm caused by their child.
All Illinois schools must have a written policy on bullying, and must communicate the policy to students and parents annually. School districts can be held responsible for not acting to protect a student even when bullying occurs electronically outside of school, or if it “causes substantial disruption to the educational process or orderly operation of a school.” Illinois school districts have a duty to investigate charges of bullying, and must have a process to determine if bullying that occurs off-campus causes disruption to the educational process or school operation. If so, schools can discipline a student for bullying even if it occurs at home through a personal electronic device.
School districts also must provide students who are bullied with information regarding counseling and support services available in the school district or community. In addition, some courts have ordered school districts to address bullying in Individual Education Programs (IEPs) for children who receive special educational services. The Illinois Parental Responsibility Law holds parents living with a child under age 18 who engages in bullying, responsible for “actual damages” to personal property resulting from willful or malicious acts.
If you believe your child is being bullied, you can contact your child’s teacher and principal immediately to request a meeting to discuss the situation and come up with a plan of action that describes what the school will do to prevent further harassment. If problems continue, parents may consider contacting the school district’s board of education or taking legal action to protect the child.
Many children and teens do not want their parents to become involved. If a child does not seem deeply distressed by bullying, some experts suggest that parents can offer coping strategies such as finding other friends or social networks that are positive and protective. This can deflate a bully, who thrives on getting attention from victims. Parents also can encourage a child to recruit allies and verbally confront the bully. These actions can empower a child and lessen his or her sense of being a victim.
Parents can also help a child by actively listening. This involves creating an atmosphere of trust that enables the child to share information that is painful or hard to talk about. Learn to listen without emotional input, repeat back key information to be sure you understand, and work together on specific solutions.
Steps to protect a child against the effects of bullying include:
- Increase a child’s successful experiences by encouraging the child to explore or develop their talents
- Encourage your child to spend time with positive peers, through extra-curricular activities and volunteering
- Encourage your child to exercise, which builds better self-image and physical health
Additional information and resources regarding bullying can be found on the Illinois Childhood Trauma Coalition’s Look Through Their Eyes website.