Friday, January 20, 2012

Safety First: Bullying

A haunting issue was brought to my attention recently. An issue we (unfortunately) hear often about but tend to dismiss because we do not feel it affects us directly or we are involved in an immediate kind of way.

Nevertheless, it remains a parent's biggest fear: Bullying.

Just the thought of it panics me. I imagine Mia, helpless, taunted (or worse) at school or on some playground and I just want to shoot the whole world!

So how can we protect our children?

How can we keep them safe?

Of course, we have to come to terms with the horrifying and cruel reality that our little ones will undoubtedly get hurt, some day, somehow, and we cannot always be around to shield them from harm. 

But we can and we should definitely arm them to understand and know how to protect and defend themselves when we are away.

It all begins with understanding what the danger is. In this particular case, bullies.

A definition would be a good start because many parents may not understand or even acknowledge the magnitude of bullying or all that it entails.

Unfortunately, bullies at school or elsewhere are children, just like their victims and maybe if their parents could recognize that behavior in their own kids, they could teach them how to grow up into better, kinder human beings. 

Moreover, bullying is not a behavior limited to young ones and adults everywhere may very well display such conduct with others, and worse, in front of impressionable children who will mimic what their parents do. Therefore, recognizing bullying in our own behavior is also key to remedy this epidemic of violence. 

So what is bullying?

Stop Bullying .Gov gives a concise yet straight to the point definition:

Bullying is a widespread and serious problem that can happen anywhere. It is not a phase children have to go through, it is not "just messing around", and it is not something to grow out of. Bullying can cause serious and lasting harm.  
Although definitions of bullying vary, most agree that bullying involves:
  • Imbalance of Power:
  • people who bully use their power to control or harm and the people being bullied may have a hard time defending themselves  
  • Intent to Cause Harm:
  • actions done by accident are not bullying; the person bullying has a goal to cause harm 
  • Repetition:
  • incidents of bullying happen to the same the person over and over by the same person or group 
Types of Bullying 
Bullying can take many forms. Examples include:
  • Verbal:
  • name-calling, teasing 
  • Social:
  • spreading rumors, leaving people out on purpose, breaking up friendships 
  • Physical:
  • hitting, punching, shoving 
  • Cyberbullying:
  • using the Internet, mobile phones or other digital technologies to harm others
An act of bullying may fit into more than one of these groups.

What I believe to be the most important part to reiterate and remember is that bullying "is not just messing around".

It is not cute and it is not excusable with the simple claim that it is "harmless", "funny" or a "joke".

It is intentional harm and it must only be viewed as such. Even (or should I say especially) when the harm is not physical because this is when boundaries can easily (and intentionally) be blurred.

It should also be understood that dismissing bullying behavior is another way of condoning it and being part of the brutality. A person who comes forward to denounce bullying should always be treated with serious consideration otherwise, they will feel harassed all over again. And rightfully so.

No parent will ever want to hear their child is terrorizing others. It is not easy being unbiased when it comes to our loved ones. And it is impossible to remain detached when it comes to our own kids. However, it is crucial to remain as impartial and objective as possible.

A child bullying his peers is not to be praised for displaying signs of self-confidence and assurance.

Violence is violence. Brutality is brutality. Harm is harm. They are very different from strength of character and certainty in one's own abilities. 

It is also important to remember that bullying is delinquent conduct that could very well develop into risky or criminal behavior so addressing the issue is key in preventing possible future, far more disturbing troubles. 

How can I know if my child is a bully?

Stop Bullying .Gov identifies a few warning signs that can be useful in recognizing bullying; the child:
  • Becomes violent with others 
  • Gets into physical or verbal fights with others 
  • Gets sent to the principal’s office or detention a lot 
  • Has extra money or new belongings that cannot be explained 
  • Is quick to blame others 
  • Will not accept responsibility for their actions 
  • Has friends who bully others 
  • Needs to win or be best at everything
Some people who at risk for bullying others are well-connected to their peers, have social power, and at least one of the following:
  • Are overly concerned about their popularity 
  • Like to dominate or be in charge of others 
Others at risk for bullying others are more isolated from their peers and may have any of the following:
  • Are depressed or anxious 
  • Have low self esteem 
  • Are less involved in school 
  • Are easily pressured by peers 
  • Do not identify with the emotions or feelings of others 
Other risk factors for bullying others include the following:
  • Being aggressive 
  • Have less parent involvement 
  • Think badly of others 
  • Are impulsive 
  • Are hot-headed and easily frustrated 
  • Have difficulty following rules 
  • View violence in a positive way

Of course, these are not the only criteria to distinguish bullies, and they do not necessarily mean a child is harassing his peers, but they can be a start. Once addressed, these signs can help parents understand whether they are dealing with bullying or not, and act accordingly.

The suggested solutions proposed by Stop Bullying .Gov are in my (humble) opinion valuable educational tools as they should be used with all children regardless of their behavior. They can help instill and maintain positive behaviors:  
  • Talk with your child. Ask for their account of the situation. Be objective and listen carefully. Calmly explain what your child is accused of and ask for an explanation of the incident and their role. 
  • Make it clear to your child that you take bullying seriously. Calmly let them know that you will not tolerate this behavior. Help your child learn that bullying hurts everyone involved. 
  • Develop clear and consistent rules for your child's behavior. Praise your child when they follow the rules. Decide on fair consequences and follow through if your child breaks the rules. 
  • Spend more time with your child. Carefully supervise and monitor their activities, including when they are online or texting. 
  • Be aware of who your child's friends are. Find out how they spend their free time. 
  • Build on your child's talents and positive attributes. Encourage him or her to get involved in social activities. 
  • Work with your child’s school to ensure the bullying does not happen again. Ask the school to keep you informed. Develop strategies together to address bullying. Work together to send clear messages to your child that the bullying must stop. 
  • Talk with a school counselor or health professional. They may be able to provide your child with additional help.

How can I know if my child is being bullied?

Again, Stop Bullying .Gov proposes a checklist of possible signs to watch for:
  • Comes home with damaged or missing clothing or other belongings 
  • Reports losing items such as books, electronics, clothing, or jewelry 
  • Has unexplained injuries 
  • Complains frequently of headaches, stomachaches, or feeling sick 
  • Has trouble sleeping or has frequent bad dreams 
  • Has changes in eating habits 
  • Hurts themselves 
  • Are very hungry after school from not eating their lunch 
  • Runs away from home 
  • Loses interest in visiting or talking with friends 
  • Is afraid of going to school or other activities with peers 
  • Loses interest in school work or begins to do poorly in school 
  • Appears sad, moody, angry, anxious or depressed when they come home 
  • Talks about suicide 
  • Feels helpless 
  • Often feels like they are not good enough 
  • Blames themselves for their problems 
  • Suddenly has fewer friends 
  • Avoids certain places 
  • Acts differently than usual
Generally, children, teens and young adults who are bullied: 
  • Do not get along well with others 
  • Are less popular than others 
  • Have few to no friends 
  • Do not conform to gender norms 
  • Have low self esteem 
  • Are depressed or anxious

So how can we fight bullying?

Stop Bullying .Gov has a few tips that parents can use to prevent their child from being bullied and inculcate basic standards for dealing with bullying (even if the child is not the direct victim).
Bullying is not a normal rite of passage. It can have serious consequences. You can help your child learn how to prevent bullying.
  • Help your child understand bullying.
  • Explain what bullying is. It is more than physical; it can be done in person or over the phone or computer. 
  • Keep open lines of communication with your child.
  • Check in with your child and listen to any concerns about friends and other students. 
  • Encourage your child to pursue their interests.
  • Doing what they love may help your child be more confident among their peers and make friends with other kids with similar interests. 
  • Teach your child to take a stand against bullying.
  • Give guidance about how to stand up to those who bully if it is safe to do so. 
  • Talk to your child about seeking help from a trusted adult when feeling threatened by a bully.
  • Talk about whom they should go to for help and role-play what they should say. Assure your child that they should not be afraid to tell an adult when someone they know is being bullied. 
  • Know what is going on in your child's school.
  • Visit the school website, subscribe to the student paper—if there is one—and join the PTA listserv or mailing list. Get to know other parents, school counselors, and staff. Contact the school by phone or e-mail if you have suggestions to make the school a safer and better learning place.


Your child needs to understand that you have zero tolerance for bullying and you should believe that as well and act accordingly in order to promote a healthier environment and lead by example.

But parents cannot fight that war alone and all the stakeholders within your child's environment must contribute to the building of this positive atmosphere.

The very first and most important step is to report all and any incident to the school's administration (if the incident happened on school grounds) or any other relevant authority regulating the location where the incident took place. That is essential for that organization to support you in your immediate case but also in taking preemptive measures.

Then it is crucial your child receives professional help and guidance.

Finally, you can launch preemptive campaigns with the help of the school (or any other relevant authority) to raise awareness and hopefully prevent harm and violence from occurring. Get the school involved through large scale initiatives and have them teach not only the students about bullying's dangers and how to protect themselves but also train staff and faculty members to recognize and intervene efficiently  if and immediately when bullying occurs.

In Lebanon

Since I am currently in Beirut, and the event that prompted today's post took place in Lebanon, I sought professional advice there.

There is an NGO called Child Of Lebanon (Facebook) that champions children rights and aims at building child protection initiatives and programs. They offer trainings and awareness campaigns on school ground provided the school administration requests such programs in the first place.

You can contact them by email at or phone on +961.1.611630 / +961.9.936932.

A directory of all their experts, including personal contact information, is available on the NGO's website.

In the UAE

I will definitely update this post once I am back in Dubai. I have come across many health professionals and organizations with similar goals and I am certain I can find useful references once I am in town.


Links to Safety First and Foremost posts:

Mamma Mia

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