TALK EARLY, TALK OFTEN TO STOP BULLYING

Carl Robinette

Fri July 25, 2014 10:56am

When you were a kid it was accepted that dealing with bullies in school was just part of growing up, but the reality is that bullying can cause serious long-term side effects, including anxiety and depression, and can negatively impact academic performance and social confidence, said local therapist Jeff Palitz of Eastlake Community Counseling.
Any pattern of behavior that threatens the emotional state of another person — teasing, physical contact and  even social exclusion — can and should be considered bullying.
About 28 percent of U.S. students grades six through 12 experience bullying and about 30 percent of young people admit to bullying others, according StopBullying.org. With huge numbers of children using social media as a primary source of social interaction, cyber bullying has become a major concern, according to Palitz.
“The number one mistake parents make with regard to cyber bullying is underestimating its seriousness,” said Palitz. Social media is very important to the social lives and status of young people and can have tremendous impact on self-esteem, he added.
Parents of bullying victims face a challenge but it boils down to engaging children in conversations about bullying early and often. Like most difficult parenting conversation topics, it is critical to make kids feel comfortable bringing up harassment to their parents. The only way that will happen is if the child has seen and heard their parents talk about it first, according to Palitz.
Parents have to be the kids’ best advocate,” Palitz said. That means supporting the children by notifying teachers and principals of the problem and even taking it to the district level if the problem persists on school grounds.
The old belief that confronting bullies head-on is the best way to deal with them is largely a myth, as bullies often feed off of the reactions they get from their aggressive behavior.
“There is almost no circumstance where I advise a direct confrontation with a bully,” said Palitz. “The hardest thing is often times children who are bullies are being bullied at home.”
Changing that kind of family dynamic is very difficult and, in most cases, is out of the hands of the victims’ parents. Beyond creating an open dialogue on bullying, parents should also be prepared to recognize patterns of behavior change as a symptom of abuse. If an outgoing child becomes reserved, or a reserved child starts acting out, there is a strong chance that child has become the victim of some form of harassment.
“The number one thing is to let your kids know you’re paying attention,” Palitz said. “I think it’s totally reasonable to have passwords and access to what your kids are doing online.”
 “The main way to prevent it is to take an active interest in your kid’s life so that it’s not an unusual occurrence to talk to them about bullying,” Palitz added.