Types of bullying at school
The fact that one in five students has experienced some form of bullying/violence at school shows how alarming this topic has become in the USA, primarily due to the long-term effects of bullying on children’s emotional and social development.
By raising awareness about bullying at school due to the growing rate of middle and high school students who harbored thoughts of suicide during the 1990s, researchers and teaching staff changed the paradigm of viewing school bullying as merely physical violence. Namely, by publishing new scientific research and practical insights into school bullying obtained from the teachers, it was recognized that there is a broad spectrum of bullying/abusive behaviors which were either invisible at first glance, or were considered harmless, not knowing what mental/psychological effects they can leave on students.
Given the fact that the seriousness of the effects of bullying can be enormous, and dangerous in the long run, regardless of the child’s level of education, it is necessary to familiarize oneself with the bullying types so as to be able to potentially prevent or stop it. The text below will try to define bullying types at school, signs that a child has experienced or is experiencing bullying at school, as well as how parents can prevent bullying/abuse against their child.
Types of bullying parents should know about
According to the National Center Against Bullying, bullying is defined as: “ongoing and deliberate misuse of power in relationships through repeated verbal, physical and/or social behaviour that intends to cause physical, social and/or psychological harm. It can involve an individual or a group misusing their power, or perceived power, over one or more persons who feel unable to stop it from happening”. With this definition in mind, it is easy to see that the problem of bullying at school is very complex both for parents, and teachers, who must regularly monitor potential outbursts both among bullies, and the bullied.
There are different types of bullying at school, and their variations have only additionally expanded with the emergence of the Internet and the development of digital technologies when young people were introduced to the world of social media. The six most common types of bullying at school include:
Physical bullying is best known with regard to other types, because it is very easy to recognize/identify. The most obvious form of bullying involves physical attacks that can manifest in several ways, including:
- Destroying/damaging other students’ things/property or their theft
- Hair pulling
- Showing rude hand gestures
- Touching another person without their consent
Inflicting any kind of physical injury to another person is a crime, and its consequences can be significant, both short-term and long-term. In addition, the consequences of physical bullying are not only physical, but also psychological which are often reflected as trauma that “stays” with a person their whole life.
Kids who are the most common victims of bullying are often physically weaker, with a disability, or possess certain personality traits, such as introvertness, insecurity, and self-doubt.
Unlike physical bullying that leaves both physical and physiological effects, research shows that verbal bullying significantly affects children’s mental health and emotional formation/personality development. Verbal bullying is one of the more significant triggers of depression and suicidal thoughts in teenagers, and one of the biggest challenges for educators is the fact that this form of bullying can often go unnoticed. It commonly occurs when there are no adults around, and its ultimate goal is to publicly humiliate the victim.
Verbal bullies most often use insults such as:
- Name calling (the use of offensive and derogatory names)
- Threats of physical injury
- Spreading rumors
The most common victims of this type of bullying are special-needs children, children with learning difficulties or children with disabilities.
Social bullying / Relational bullying / Bullying with exclusionary tactics / Covert bullying / Emotional bullying
Although this type of bullying has several names/denominators depending on the classification, it is characterized by the same bullying behaviors, including:
- Subtle exclusion from society
- Ignoring a person
- Showing negative facial or physical gestures (eye-rolling, turning one’s back on the person talking)
- Encouraging other members of the group to exclude the bullied person
- Undermining friendships by spreading rumors
- Destroying a person’s social reputation by creating situations in which the victim of bullying will be humiliated
The biggest problem and challenge related with this type of bullying is that it is hard to identify due to the complexity of interpersonal relationships. In addition, both research and practice point out that this type of bullying is more common among girls who often use different/more subtle methods of bullying due to the physical inability to inflict physical pain on the victims.
Cyberbullying involves sending offensive words, photographs, threats, slanders and rumors to a person by one or more people on social media and other websites via messages or posts, using digital technologies such as computers, laptops, or smartphones.
Specifically, Johatan Heidt, a professor at New York University, and one of the initiators or the anti-bullying campaign presents significant data in the book he co-authored, The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure, which show that increased participation of young people on social media resulted in the increased depression rates, primarily among teenage girls. In addition to the various negative effects of social media, Heidt often mentions the problem of cyberbullying in his public appearances. Heindt explains that our brains, and especially the brains of teenagers which are still developing, could not evolutionarily predict the exponential growth of the group of people who support us at one point, only to mock us at another.
It implies physical, but also verbal bullying focused on the child’s sexuality. This form of bullying is easy to identify due to the specific activities that bullies use as a weapon:
- Giving nicknames with a sexual connotation
- Touching a person without their consent in a sexual way
- Posting explicit/pornographic material that can publicly humiliate the person featuring on that material, destroy their reputation or upset them
- Giving vulgar comments in the form of slut-shaming or body-shaming
- Spreading rumors with a sexual connotation
- Sexistic taunts
It should be underlined that parents and educators are obliged to react urgently to any sign of sexual bullying, because it can very easily evolve into a sexual assault. However, with or without a sexual assault, sexual bullying itself is traumatic enough, and it leaves permanent emotional and mental scars, which is why this type of problem has to be addressed immediately.
As the term itself says, prejudicial bullying implies prejudicial behavior and bullying of people from a different culture, social standing, religion, race, or sexual orientation. Namely, this type of bullying can be manifested as the activities listed in the previously mentioned types of bullying.
The source for this type of bullying must be sought in the family values and upbringing that children receive from their parents, and in the environment where they grow up. In other words, if we want to get to the root of the problem, we must primarily look at the parents and the community in which the bullies grew up.
Signs that your child is being bullied
Bullying, especially if it occurs frequently and intensively, can be very easily recognized due to the extensiveness of its manifestations. The key signs for alarm that your child is being bullied are listed below:
- Occurrence of unexplainable/unreported injuries, bruises, scratches or cuts
- Frequent nightmares
- Attempts to avoid going to school
- Missing things: clothes, school books, supplies, phone, jewelry
- Emerging habits that point to an eating disorder, such as avoiding meals, or overeating
- Appearance of symptoms of antisocial behavior, such as spending significant amounts of time in one’s room, loss of friends, ceasing communication with friends
- Manifesting symptoms of anxiety
- Reporting regular headaches or nausea
- Chronic insomnia
- The child looks sad and gloomy when they return from school
- The child frequently talks about being excluded from their group and participation in any social/group activity.
Ways to prevent bullying
Parents should never entirely rely on the teachers who can often miss more subtle changes in the child’s behavior. In other words, you should never take chances when it comes to your child, but use your commitment and upbringing to try and prevent any form of bullying that may occur, or has already occurred. Here are some ways in which you can prevent bullying:
Nurture a relationship of trust with your child
Building an open relationship based on trust is certainly a good way for achieving better communication between you and your child. You should keep in mind that everything revolves around you, and that you should lead by example. Therefore, you should regularly show interest in your child’s life and ask:
- How was school
- If he/she had any difficulties or problems
- If he/she achieved success, or experienced a memorable moment in class, or during interaction with their peers.
By practicing this approach, you will get to know your child better, and thus be able to better recognize the changes in their behavior.
Raise your child’s awareness of bullying
The best way to raise your child’s awareness of the immediacy of bullying at school is by watching documentaries, movies or educational videos on how to recognize bullying and its elements.
Teach them practical techniques on how to deal with bullying if they encounter it
The practice shows that when they encounter a stressor, children often think that they are to blame for what happens, and not the aggressors, i.e. bullies, which results in them keeping silent about the problem. In other words, assuming that you have introduced your child to what constitutes bullying, the only thing left is to explain/teach them what to do in case they are being bullied, or witness bullying at school.
- Avoiding situations: Children, especially those from problematic families, often become bullies themselves, however, it does not necessarily mean that every form of teasing is by default malicious. If your child encounters some form of teasing, the first piece of advice you should give them is to try and avoid the situation. Explain to them that not every problem is worth fighting for.
- Verbal self-defense: If, by any case, the teasing/bullying continues even after the child tried to avoid the situation, you should teach them to verbally defend themselves, i.e. to know how to disarm the bully with words, whether directly or through humor, telling them to stop the inappropriate behavior aimed toward them.
- Seeking help from the school counselor or teachers: Another technique/tool your child can use in case they are being bullied is to seek help from the school counselor or a trusted teacher.
So, the recommendation is that the child does not address the higher instances at school immediately, but to try and solve the problem, and prevent bullying on their own. In this way, they will not only solve the problem, but also improve their emotional development, preparing themselves for the future challenges that await outside of school. In case the child cannot solve the bullying problem on their own, they should address the employees of the educational institution to cut off the root of the problem.
Work on the child’s self-confidence
It is necessary to work on the child’s self-confidence from an early age. There are certain activities the practicing of which will certainly improve the child’s level of confidence:
- Encourage them to regularly engage in activities that are new to them
- Do not scold them for the mistakes they make when engaging in activities they have just started learning
- Praise them when they do something well, or demonstrate appropriate behavior
- Tell them you love them and that they are worthy of love all the time
- Show them that you understand them
- Reward them for a success they have deserved
- Try to find activities they are interested in together, and then work together to improve them, without unnecessary pressure
Become an anti-bullying advocate
If, by any chance, you are full of enthusiasm, have experience with overcoming and preventing bullying at school, and if you want to help parents who do not know how to deal with this problem when their child is a victim of bullying, then you should become an anti-bullying advocate.
You can start from the school your child attends by volunteering in school activities, writing articles about your personal experience in preventing your own child from becoming a victim of bullying, organizing workshops for parents on the school premises on how to prevent or reduce the number of bullied students.
What can you do as a parent?
As you can see, the problem of bullying/violence at school is very complex, primarily because its triggers originate from different areas of life (family problems, poor upbringing, low social status of students, growing up in problematic neighborhoods, lack of government intervention, etc.). Given the information presented in this text about the types of bullying, signs that your child is being bullied, as well as ways to prevent bullying, you will have a better perspective on where you and your child stand, and undertake the necessary steps accordingly.