Dr. Greg Wigington knows how bullying can affect a child.
But he also knows steps parents can take to help children who become the target of a bully.
Wigington is a psychiatrist at Fremont Health Behavioral Health. He cares for adults, but also specializes in child and adolescent psychiatry.
With October being National Bullying Prevention Month, Wigington and Fremont Health shared some insights.
Between 1 in 4 and 1 in 3 U.S. students say they have been bullied at school, states data from the stopbullying.govwebsite.
Bullying involves unwanted, aggressive behavior. It includes hurting another person by making fun of them, spreading rumors, physically hurting them or damaging their possessions.
“It’s usually repetitive and it’s a power imbalance,” Wigington said.
And with the advent of the Internet and social media, there are more ways for a person to be bullied.
Children more at risk for being bullied tend to be those perceived as different by their peers, such as being overweight or underweight, wearing different clothing or not able to afford what kids consider as “cool,” the website states.
Wigington cites other reasons why children may be bullied.
“They might have some anxiety or depression where they isolate,” he said. “Sometimes they’re perceived as easy targets.”
Bullying can affect children in various ways. It can lower a child’s self-esteem. It can cause isolation and feelings of helplessness or hopelessness, Wigington said.
Bullied children are more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression and other health-related issues, states information from the Spirit Health Group, provided through Fremont Health.
Children who are bullied are more likely to miss or drop out of school and see their grades or test scores drop. Some have been known to react violently — 12 out of 15 school shootings in the 1990s included shooters who’d been bullied, health group data states.
If the situation isn’t corrected or the child doesn’t get help, there also could be a possible propensity of that child becoming a victim of domestic violence later on in life, Wigington said.
How do parents know if their children are being bullied?
That’s not always easy.
Many children who are bullied don’t tell an adult for fear of retaliation by the bully or of being seen as weak or due to feelings of social isolation or humiliation, the Spirit Health Group states.
Yet various signs could indicate a child may be a victim of bull
“Sometimes you’ll see declines in academic achievement, mood changes, more depression, more anxiety, possibly even aggression,” Wigington said.
Some of the bullied child’s personal possessions could turn up missing or be damaged or destroyed. The child might have unexplained or frequent injuries, difficulty sleeping or nightmares. He or she may not want to go to school or may complain of headaches or stomachaches.
Parents who suspect their children may be the target of bullying should talk to them about what’s going on, when it’s occurring and how they’re feeling, Wigington said.
A parent could talk to teachers or have the child report it when it happens.
Without mentioning names, the parent also might check with other parents to see if their children are having problems with being bullied and what they’ve done.
Information from Fremont Health and the Spirit Health Group also lists these strategies for keeping children safe:
Encourage children to stay near adults or in a group of friends.
Encourage children to report bullying to a trusted adult.
Discuss how to safely stand up to bullies by using humor, clearly and confidently saying, “Stop,” and walking away from the situation if the other strategies don’t work.
Encourage children to get help or show kindness when they see another child being bullied.
Report to police or school authorities if bullying has escalated and is endangering the child.
In some cases, a student might switch a class schedule so he or she isn’t around the bully, Wigington said.
Parents may opt to have their children change schools if they’re not making friends or if others are bullying them.
And while bullying over the Internet may be harder to control, Wigington has some suggestions.
“I think there has to be more parent involvement in taking action and correcting it,” he said.
Parents need to monitor their children’s electronic devices and social media. Corrective action may include: telling bullies to stop; blocking them on Facebook, email or texting; and contacting school administrators or law enforcement authorities.
For children who have self-esteem issues, anxiety or depression, therapy may be helpful.
Wigington is seeing hopeful signs when it comes to attention being brought to the issue.
“I think it’s becoming more talked about,” he said. “It’s becoming more of an issue in the sense that it’s addressed and things are done about it. I think people are taking it more seriously.”