Q: Our community has again lost a child to suicide as a result of bullying. Do you have any insights on this topic?
A: As defined by the NASW, bullying is the intentional and repeated use of actions and words designed to intimidate or hurt another person. Bullying can be verbal, physical, or nonverbal/nonphysical. Examples of verbal bullying include teasing, taunting, name-calling, and spreading rumors. Hitting, kicking, shoving, and destroying property are types of physical bullying. Threatening or obscene gestures are non-verbal/non-physical types of bullying. Now with technology, bullying often occurs online or through use of personal mobile phones to text, email, or send an instant messages.
Bullying is an imbalance of power and characterized by intentionally aggressive behavior. While bullying happens at all ages it has become even more prevalent in teens using technology to taunt others, frequently on issues related to sexual behaviours. Furthermore, we now see the term used to identify unacceptable behaviours in the workplace as well as in situations of domestic violence.
Bullying is often defended as “just teasing”. Whereas teasing is done to irritate or provoke another with persistent distractions or other annoyances, bullying is intentionally hurtful and demeaning. If your child is being bullied make sure that you and the school staff understand the difference between teasing and bullying. If it is bullying, advocate immediately and resolutely on behalf of your child. Ensure that the school policies are clear to all and that the rules are enforced. Do not accept any minimization of the behaviour as an excuse.
Ensure that you have open communication with your child so that if they or another child are being bullied, they can tell you about it. Listen in a non-judgmental way and do not blame the victim by asking how they caused it. Make sure that your child knows that the behaviour is wrong and unacceptable. Encourage the school to talk to the person who is doing the bulling to make sure he or she knows what behavior is wrong, why it’s wrong, and what the consequences are for engaging in the behavior. Lead by example. Do not allow bullying behaviour to exist within your home between spouses or (step) siblings. Home and school should be a safe place for everyone.
Do not tolerate oppressive behaviours. Wherever you see it, whether at home, school, or in the workplace, speak out against harassment and bullying. We must all encourage an environment that is free of intimidation, discrimination and bias.