Britannica for Parents: How to Respond to Bullying

Note from Carrie: This was the second piece in a two-part series for Encyclopedia Britannica’s Parenting vertical. The article is about how to respond to bullying situations from different points of view, depending on whether your child is an aggressor, a target, or a bystander.

By Carrie Goldman

Lisa Johnson is worried about her nine-year-old son, Stuart. “Two other kids on his soccer team are giving him a really hard time—mocking him and being very physically aggressive when the coach isn’t looking. The ringleaders have persuaded other kids to join in the rough behavior. Stuart often refuses to go to soccer practice.”

In the first article in this series “How Can I Prevent Bullying for My Child,” we learned how to determine if a difficult social situation is classified as bullying or a normal social conflict. As a reminder, bullying includes three simultaneous conditions: 1) It is repetitive in nature, 2) It includes unwanted acts of aggression, and 3) A power imbalance exists between the target and the aggressor(s).

Children who are targets of bullying begin to fear the place where the bullying is happening. Normal social conflict, by contrast, does not include a power imbalance. The children do not fear each other, and social conflict, while often painful, does not cause the same ongoing harm.

In the case of Lisa’s son Stuart, his situation checks all the boxes for a bullying dynamic. Two kids are repeatedly taunting him, these are unwanted acts of aggression, and the ringleaders are using their power to persuade other kids to join in the taunting. Not surprisingly, Stuart has developed a fear of going to practice.

The Impact of Bullying

The effects of bullying worsen the longer the victimization goes on. I spoke with Dr. Sharon Robinson, a lead pediatrician at NorthShore University HealthSystem, about the impacts of bullying on her patients. “From a mental health aspect, it can have a tremendous detrimental effect on self-esteem, which can translate into lack of success in school and difficulty in social settings. Kids with low self-esteem—and girls in particular—are at higher risk of developing harmful behaviors like self-mutilation and eating disorders.” A child who is being bullied needs adults and allies to provide support, validation, and relief.

Read the rest of the article on Britannica For Parents: