As a parent, you will undoubtedly worry that your child may be at risk of being bullied.  Bullying is unwanted, aggressive anti-social behaviour that involves real or perceived power imblance.  The behaviour is often repeated over time and can have very serious lasting consequences for children and young people who are bullied or who bully others.

What is Bullying?

Bullying is behaviour that intimidates another person.  It involves a person or group using their power over an individual, through words or actions, to control or harm.  The result of bullying is that the victim will be left feeling unhappy, anxious, scared and in extreme cases even suicidal if the situation is allowed to continue.

Types of Bullying

Bullying can take different forms.  The main types are:

  • Verbal Bullying – saying or writing things that are hurtful.  This includes teasing, name-calling, inappropriate sexual comments; taunting; and threatening to cause harm.
  • Social Bullying – sometimes referred to as relational bullying, involves hurting someone’s reputation or relationships.  This includes leaving someone out of an activity or conversation deliberately; encouraging other children or young people not to be friends with an individual; spreading rumours about someone; and embarrassing in public.
  • Physical Bullying – involves hurting a person’s body or possessions.  This includes hitting, kicking or pinching; spitting; tripping/pushing; taking or breaking someone’s things; or making rude or cruel hand or facial gestures.
  • Cyber Bullying – involves the use of technology for bullying.  This includes sending upsetting or threatening text messages, tweets, posting on Facebook or other social networking sites.  It can also include sharing photos, videos etc. that a young person would not want shared.

Risk Factors

No single factor puts a child at risk of being bullied or bullying others – sometimes it can be just if they are different in some way.  Bullying can take place anywhere – in cities, towns or rural areas, in school and out of school, face to face or on-line.  Some groups have potential for increased risk of being bullied such as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) young people; children and young people with disabilities or special needs; young carers; and those that are socially isolated.  There are times in children and young people’s lives when they may be more vulnerable including times of transition – such as the move between primary and secondary school; moving to a new area; when they first begin to travel around on public transport without an adult; or during puberty when they are dealing with physical and emotional change.

Warning Signs

Potential warning signs that indicate that your child could be being bullied include:

  • change in behaviour or mood, including anxiety and depression;
  • lack of confidence, becoming clingy
  • less contact with friends;
  • self-harm, including eating problems;
  • not wanting to go to school or college;
  • not doing as well with studies;
  • physical injuries – including unexplained bruises;
  • ceasing to enjoy activities that they used to look forward to e.g. sports, clubs and other leisure activities;
  • ‘losing’ money or their possessions becoming damaged without a good explanation;
  • starting to mis-use drugs or alcohol; and
  • bullying others.

Not all children or young people experiencing bullying ask for help.  This may be because they are under threat from the person bullying them, they find it hard to share or they do not know who they can confide in.  If your child has shared with you their concerns about being bullied, it is important that you in turn ensure that you share this with their school or college.

What can you do?

  • Encourage open dialogue and acceptance at home with your children so that if they need help they will be open with you;
  • Ensure that you attend school meetings and parents evenings so that you can hear any concerns that school may have (all schools have anti-bullying policies);
  • If bullying happens, take it seriously and do not try to minimise it;
  • Tackle it early on as it is unlikely to go away on its own and will be harder to deal with if it escalates;
  • Share the information in the Children and Young People’s section of the website on bullying with your child – which will give them some understanding, ideas of how to tackle the issue and support; or NHS Choices which offers simple guidance for both children and parents;
  • With cyberbullying – there are specific steps that you can take as parents with technology, such as removing access to social media, restricting access etc. and
  • Seek support from your child’s school and/or the many independent groups that specialise in this topic (see below).

What if it is my child that is the bully?

If you hear that you child is being accused of bullying, your first reaction will probably be disbelief.  However, you need to ensure that you make further enquiries and discuss this with your child as if true – there will be someone else’s child suffering.  Listen to what is being said, by the school or third party and agree to work with them.  There are occasions when children or young people are unjustly accused of being bullies but a thorough investigation should reveal this.  If it turns out that your child has been bullying, some possible actions to consider are:

  • trying to find out why – there will always be a reason which could be their own unhappiness, insecurity, or they may be being pressurised into the bullying by a gang;
  • consider sanctions such as warnings, or withdrawal of pocket money and other privileges; and
  • going through the school anti-bullying policy so that they understand the consequences of their actions – which could ultimately be exclusion.

Resources, Help and Support

  • Bullying UK – what to do if your child is being bullied;
  • NSPCC – Bullying and cyberbullying at a glance;
  • Bullies Out – information for parents and carers;