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Watch for signs of school bullies
MISSISSIPPI STATE – Many adults know from experience about the scars school bullies can leave and should remember that the evidence is not always obvious.
Karen Benson has witnessed behavior by bullies and their victims in the course of teaching relationship classes to teens. She is a child and family development area agent based in Neshoba County with Mississippi State University’s Extension Service.
Benson said parents can spot some of the warning signs when their children become the victims of bullies. Some of the common signs include changes in eating and sleeping habits, depression, stopping things they once enjoyed or spending too much time with one person.
“Bullies often try to cut off people from their healthy support groups,” she said. “Parents should not hesitate to talk to their children about phone and Internet issues. Encourage them to share anything others do that is upsetting or makes them uncomfortable. Be involved in their lives and know their friends. Watch for demanding or controlling friends.”
While bullies’ motives have not changed much, today’s victims face additional threats over the Internet or cell phones.
“Parents today are often shocked to discover the methods of bullying used by children and on children. It isn’t even as straightforward as mean texts, e-mails or postings on social network sites,” Benson said. “Altered or malicious photos and videos can be sent to hundreds or more people at one time.”
Benson said bullies usually begin patterns of aggression and anger early in life, and those behaviors tend to escalate throughout their lives until someone addresses them.
“Bullies are often insecure people who have been victims of other bullies at home or in their community,” she said. “They may not recognize dysfunctional behavior and think abusive words or actions are normal.”
Louise Davis, Extension child and family development specialist, said children learn behaviors from what they see around them.
“If they see fighting and aggression at home, they are likely to act out similarly with their peers,” she said.
Davis said bulling behavior has several identifying traits: it is intentional, hurtful, repetitive and concerned with power or control.
“It’s not uncommon for someone to accidentally hurt another’s feelings, but when it is intentional, that is the sign of a bully,” she said. “Bullies want to hurt others, either physically or emotionally.”
Davis said bullies are rarely satisfied with being mean once, and they target children who will not report or respond to stop them. The bully may be older, bigger, stronger or feel empowered by social status and use that advantage against the victim.
“If a parent believes someone is bullying their child, aggressive steps need to be taken to stop it,” she said. “The steps could be as simple as removing the bully’s access to the victim or as complicated as contacting school officials or law enforcement.”
For more information about bullies on the Internet, adults can contact their local Extension office to request copies of publication No. 2587, “Preventing Cyber-Bullying: A Resource Guide for Parents and Teachers.”