by Joe Bruzzese
Bullying  
4 Ways to Detect It
5 Parent Actions
Once viewed as an extreme case of how bullying breaks down teen girls, the “Odd Girl” persona (see poem, right) now defines a growing number of female victims.

In a recent national survey of students in grades 6-10, 30 percent reported being the target of bullies. Nearly 60 percent of the victims said they were bullied with threatening or embarrassing words through e-mail, instant messages, websites, chat rooms or text messages.

The rise of cyberbullying (bullying through the use of technology) now runs rampant among the teen population. Gossip once confined to notes and conversations in the halls now flows freely from one friend’s phone to the next before finding its way online.

“Being bullied is not just an unpleasant rite of passage through childhood,” says Duane Alexander, MD, director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. “It’s a public health problem that merits attention. People who were bullied as children are more likely to suffer from depression and low self-esteem well into adulthood, and the bullies themselves are more likely to engage in criminal behavior later in life.”

Whether bullying happens in person or online, it isn’t something that parents should merely observe from the sidelines — particularly given the serious emotional and physical abuse that can occur.

What Girls Do 
A shake of the head, a roll of the eyes 
The rumors the lies
 
They no longer play on your pride
 
But rip you up inside
 
This is what girls do
 
This is what they say
 
It is like this every day
 
The mothers reply
 
But that is a lie
 
Walking in the hall
 
Taking in it all
 
All alone no one home
 
Kids shouting, kids
 
   staring
All this torture I’m bearing
 
No one caring
 
— Anonymous, Age 12, from
Odd Girl Speaks Out by Rachel Simmons
Four Signs of Bullying
Here are four signs to watch out for when trying to determine if your child is being bullied:

1 Reluctance to leave home. Refusing to attend school, sports practices and other extracurricular activities may be a sign that your child is being bullied. The attention of coaches and teachers is occasionally diverted away from the team or group. In those moments, kids can quickly find ways of singling out an individual, engaging in verbal taunting and subtle physical abuse (pushing and tripping) that can go undetected.

“In the rush to get the kids moving in the morning, we don’t have a lot of time to spend together. I mistook my daughter’s anxiety about getting ready for school in the morning for an attempt to prevent us from getting out the door. I later found out she had been bullied for over a month. I didn’t see it.”
—Dana, a middle school parent

2 Unexplained cuts or bruises. If your child can’t offer a reasonable explanation for the appearance of any unusual marks on her body, it’s time to investigate.

3 Increased sadness or anxiety. Adolescents tend to be moody. However, a sudden increase in crying outbursts and anxiety levels beyond the typical teen drama could be the result of bullying.

4 Steadily decreasing academic performance. A dip from 95 percent on one test to 85 percent on the next doesn’t warrant a full-scale investigation. But repeated low scores, missed assignments or comments from your child’s teachers about declining performance are signals that could mean there are bullying issues at play.

For More Info
National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center. Facts, articles and additional resources. www.safeyouth.org

Stop Bullying Now! Audio, video and text-based resources created by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. http://stopbullyingnow.hrsa.gov

Stop Cyberbullying. Resources and information directed at children ages 7-17 developed by the Internet safety and help group Wired Safety. www.stopcyberbullying.org

The following books provide help and insights about bullying among girls:

The Anti-Bullying Handbook, by Keith Sullivan (Oxford University Press, $20.95)

Odd Girl Speaks Out: Girls Write about Bullies, Cliques, Popularity, and Jealousy by Rachel Simmons (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $13)

Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and Other Realities of Adolescence by Rosalind Wiseman (Crown Publishing, $14.95)

Action Steps for Parents
If you suspect your child is being bullied, here are five things you can do to unearth the problem and bring bullying to an end.

1 Share observations. Sharing statements such as “You seem sad today” or “This seems like a rough week for you” can open the door to a conversation with your child.

2 Investigate. During the weekday, a parent’s time with a child is often limited to a few quick phone calls. Sharing a conversation with adults who see your child on a regular weekly basis fills in the gaps of what you might be missing. Connecting with teachers, coaches and mentors can be an invaluable source of information about a child’s life. If concerns arise about your child’s behavior, turn to this group of adults for insight.

3 Make contact. A casual argument between friends doesn’t call for a heated visit to the school’s front office. However, when arguments turn physical or include verbally abusive statements, don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment with the school counselor. Bring the evidence you have from your observations as well as any conversations with adults who regularly interact with your child.

4 Avoid the paparazzi. Coach your child to stay clear of impromptu cell phone camera shots. An innocent shot snapped quickly between classes can eventually find its way into a bully’s hands, becoming a source of teasing that can be magnified if the photo is used online.

5 Report it. The moment you become aware of a threatening e-mail or phone call, or see anything online referencing your child in a negative way, report it to school administrators. Contacting the school is the first step to pulling the plug on cyberbullying.

Bringing bullying to an end takes a team effort. Schools and law enforcement agencies have risen to meet the challenge of keeping kids safe, but the brunt of the burden still falls on the shoulders of victims and their families.

Through a continued effort to identify and report bullying incidents, teens regain self confidence and head toward a happy and healthy future.

Joe Bruzzese is the author of A Parent’s Guide to the Middle School Years (Celestial Arts, $14.95) and co-founder of Thinking-Forward.com, an onlineresource for families during the middle school years.