In the high-tech age of texting and social media, children have become more susceptible to bullying than ever before – even for many talented individuals, like U.S. gold medalist Gabby Douglas, who recently reported being “devastated” by negative online comments about her performance in Rio.
It’s a problem of particular concern to the Kyrene and Tempe Elementary school districts, which have launched comprehensive programs to detect bullying and address it before the effects produce serious or even tragic results.
In the Tempe Elementary district, Director of Student Support Tracy Harvester says a comprehensive social skills curriculum is in place to focus on teaching students self-advocacy skills and anti-bullying techniques.
The Tempe Elementary district has what Harvester describes as a user-friendly system for reporting bullying, and all bullying complaints must be addressed within 24 hours.
Students’ rights are displayed in each classroom and common areas of all schools. All schools also implement a Positive Behavioral Intervention System, with a focus on praising and rewarding appropriate student behavior, Harvester added.
Kyrene district officials said that, while most people are familiar with the typical schoolyard bully, there is a new type of bully that isn’t restricted to playgrounds but rather has a virtual key into your home. It’s called cyberbullying and it, along with traditional bullying, is on the rise, according to researchers.
Unfortunately, the problem also is becoming increasingly difficult for parents to identify.
Statistics indicate more than half of young people have experienced cyberbullying, and when they are bullied, they don’t confide in their parents. Just one in six parents is even aware of the scope and intensity of cyberbullying, according to NoBullying.com.
October’s observance of Bullying Prevention Awareness Month provides a good time for some of the ways parents can spot many of the warning signs of possible bullying or cyberbullying.
Here are a few:
Mood changes or trouble sleeping — While mood changes can be a normal part of adolescence, it’s important to note if your child suddenly becomes sad, depressed, angry, frustrated, agitated or even stressed out, especially if there is no clear cause.
Subsequently, these issues can trigger sleep problems, including trouble falling asleep, getting up in the morning, nightmares and bedwetting for younger children.
Behavior changes — Pay close attention to how they behave after school or immediately after other activities that involve their peers. Though the effects of bullying are long-lasting, they should be most notable right after the incident. This includes computer activities like social media or when they receive a text, instant message or email. If they appear nervous, seem agitated directly afterward, or are unwilling to share their online activity, they may be experiencing cyberbullying.
Declining grades — A child’s attitude toward school can be one of the first signs of bullying. If they suddenly have a loss of interest or enthusiasm for school, this may be a sign of trouble. Some children who experience bullying may also see a decline in their grades. This includes falling behind in school work and refusing to talk about the events of the school day.
Sickness — Children who are bullied may show a recurring pattern of physical ailments, such as headaches or stomachaches. Whether the sickness is real or fake, it can be a sign of being bullied.
Socialization — A child’s friendships can change seemingly overnight, particularly during their teen years. However, parents should pay close attention if an overall pattern starts to emerge, like if your child becomes withdrawn and avoids peers, friends, family or social situations.
Many times, children aren’t even aware that they are being bullied and may write it off as just being “picked on.”
That’s why it is crucial to stay in close contact with school counselors as well as talk to your child about bullying prevention before you even suspect there’s an issue. This includes making them aware of prevention strategies and helping them understand how they should treat others and how others should treat them.
There are a number of additional online resources to help families deal with this rising problem. Not sure where to start? I suggest visiting the National Bullying Prevention Center’s teen website, Teens Against Bullying, which is filled with valuable information, videos and other resources on how to deal with the issues related to bullying.
Unfortunately, cyberbullying is here to stay. Let’s do everything we can to help our children overcome it and succeed.
Kerry Wright is principal of Arizona Connections Academy, an online public school that students attend from home.