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With a new school year underway, it’s a good time to address the problem of bullying. Bullying is a serious problem that can make a victim miserable, especially with cyber bullying–where bullies have instant and constant access to victims. At its worst, bullying can leave the victim with serious long term effects and can even lead to life threatening consequences.

Bullying is typically defined by repeated unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. Bullying can involve actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, or deliberately excluding someone from a group.

Experts often describe three categories of bullying:

1. Verbal bullying: teasing, name calling, threats of harm, taunting or inappropriate sexual comments
2. Social bullying: spreading rumors, telling others not to be friends with someone, excluding from an activity or publicly embarrassing a child
3. Physical bullying: actions meant to hurt a person’s body or damage their possessions.

As more children spend large amounts of time on phones and online, cyber bullying has become a significant problem of verbal and social bullying. This form of bullying poses a tremendous challenge because children and teens can now encounter bullying at all hours, even from the safety of their own homes. The negative effects are just as devastating as the more traditional bullying, making this a concerning threat.

Just this week, Instagram rolled out a new feature that allows users to block offensive and mean-spirited comments. While this does not solve the bigger issue–that social media can be used as a means to be unkind and offensive in the first place—it certainly helps a bit.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Click to the circular “gear button” on the right corner of the account
  2. Scroll down to “comments”
  3. Swipe “hide inappropriate comments”
  4. Fill in any custom key words that you or your kid would not want to see in a comment.

And following are four practical tips to prevent or address bullying:

  1. Open the lines of communication: Children can be hesitant to approach parents or teachers when they are being bullied. Sometimes they do not understand that they are being bullied, other times they are afraid of how an adult will react. One of the most important steps to counter bullying is to to talk to your kids daily. Start conversations about how their day went. Ask open ended questions like what was the best thing that happened today, followed by what was the worst thing. How was lunch – who did you sit with – what did you guys talk about? Who did you sit with on the bus or play with at recess? Engaging your kids regularly with open lines of communication will help them feel comfortable revealing any concerns, and will help you pick up any changes in their patterns or mood. As they become comfortable talking, take the time to talk to them about bullying to make sure they understand what it means and what types of behaviors and words are safe and appropriate and how to react to things that are upsetting or uncomfortable for them.
  2. Take measures to prevent cyber bullying: You can help monitor cyber bullying by knowing and monitoring what apps your child is using online, understand how they work and use them too. If your child is on Instagram or Facebook, for example, follow him or friend him.
  3. Look for signs of bullying: Parents need to understand the signs of bullying, since even with these open lines of discussion kids may try to hide their struggle with a bully. Warning signs include trying to avoid school or an activity, noticeable change in mood or appetite, avoiding discussing their day or feelings, or becoming suddenly upset while on the phone or computer.
  4. If your child is a victim of bullying, take him seriously: If a child is the victim of any type of bullying – it is critical for parents to take action to ensure their child’s safety – both physical and emotional. In most situations parents will engage the teachers and school administration to deal with the situation. If this fails, the next step is to confront the bully’s parents to discuss the situation and work with them to address their child’s actions and threats. And finally – should there be a serious threat that puts a child in serious danger – the police should be contacted immediately. And of course the staff at Kids First is always available to help – be it documenting any injury or finding resources to address the emotional trauma – we are here for you and your child.