Chapter Twenty-Four: Warning Signs Your Child is Being Bullied, or is a Bully

If parents take notice of their child’s activities and behaviors, warning signs of something going on in their lives become apparent. If parents also stay aware of their child’s average time spent online and what they are searching, effects of possible cyberbullying will become evident. It is historically more difficult to notice any difference in behavior if your child is the bully him or herself, but it is essential that parents educate their kids on the dangers and the inappropriateness of engaging in bullying tactics so that they know what they should and shouldn’t do.

How to spot the signs of bullying?

Children’s behavior changes drastically when they are being bullied. Bullying affects the personal, interpersonal, and overall psyche of a child. It is important for parents to notice these changes in their children in order to protect them from any and all harm as best they can. Cyberbullying has somewhat of the same warning signs as a child who is being bullied at school. What is "positive"about cyberbullying is the idea that parents can more readily notice the warning signs if their child is being cyberbullied because they are almost always in the house when it occurs. It is much easier for a child to hide any scrapes, bruises and emotional distress of a school bully than hide the amount of time spent online and the behaviors associated with being cyberbullied. Parents can look over their child’s computer to see what websites they are visiting and with whom they communicate. Parents can also sit down with their children and talk to them one-on-one about the sites they visit and learn about their interactions with others, while taking notice to see if they become upset about or scared of another person online.

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School Bullying warning signs

Children who get bullied while at school usually try to hide both their physical and emotional wounds. While it can be apparent that something is just not right, children are very hesitant to admit to problems going on in their lives, let alone talk to their parents about it. Many children who are bullied at school feel as if they are the ones at fault, and worry that if they talk about it or admit it to their parents, they will be in trouble, or will be punished for their behaviors. It is important to explain to your children that bullies are the ones to blame all the time, and that they themselves are not in the wrong. Educate your child that telling you of any bullies or any problems going on in school should be one of their top priorities.

If you do notice that your child comes home from school with any torn, damaged, or missing pieces of clothing or books, has unexplained cuts or bruises, or frequent headaches or stomachaches, approach your child during a good, quiet time and ask them where they got these. Most importantly, do not blame them for any of it, as opening up to parents about this is a daunting task for kids. In all cases, and not simply with school bullies, approaching your child with worry and support can help them open up to you. Be careful not to approach this question head on and out of the blue.

Be mindful in noticing any warning signs. If your child seems off and lonely one day, do not jump to conclusions and pry for information about things going on in their lives, as this could just be a mood swing that adolescents tend to have as part of growing up. Be proactive and talk to staff and/or teachers at your child’s school if your kids are not opening up to you. If you notice that they are becoming more introverted, constantly avoiding the subject, avoiding friends, have frequent and recurring nightmares, suffer from low self-esteem, or seem afraid of going to school, it may be a good idea to talk to your children’s educators in combination with sitting them down and having an open discussion with them.

Cyberbullying warning signs

Cyberbullying, which can happen in conjunction with school bullying, has many obvious warning signs of its own. Most often, a child that is being cyberbullied is being bullied at school as well, so it is important to watch for signs of either type of abuse by peers. With cyberbullying, more of a child’s personal and emotional lives are hurt than with traditional bullying. One of the first warning signs of cyberbullying is when your child has a sudden and unexpected aversion to websites that they used to frequent such as Facebook, Myspace, YouTube, as well as instant messaging, texts, or emails. If they continue to go on those websites and use those communications, children will become upset, angry or sad afterward for no apparent reason (or for a reason they won’t tell).

Children also tend to use the computer more and go on at odd hours of the day and night if they are being cyberbullied. Some parents believe this to be because the victims are trying to get away from the cyberbully and not show that they are online, while still being able to use the site, or they are going on to defend themselves, and not necessarily engage in back and forth conversation when the cyberbully is potentially awake. Children who are victims of cyberbullies can also show signs of depression, increasing reports of illness while at home, and refusal to participate in family outings, dinners, or activities that they previously enjoyed. Lastly, children who are being cyberbullied can be scared or worried when receiving a phone call or a message online.

What if I Suspect MY Child is the Cyberbully?

Most parents are worried about their child being the victim of bullying and cyberbullying, but few actually worry or think their child could potentially be the prime suspect. While it is always important to closely monitor your child’s behaviors and well-being to make sure they are not getting hurt, it is also important to make sure your child isn’t acting like the bully no one raised them to be. Though it may be more difficult to determine than victimhood, there are some potential warning signs that are extremely informative.

Online Bully

Take notice if your child is laughing excessively or has a smirk on their face while they are online. If they are watching a funny video, or reading a funny article, they will have no problem sharing it with you. If they are doing something they aren’t supposed to be doing, like cyberbullying, they will be hesitant to show you what they are up to. Cyberbullies actually enjoy and take pride in bullying others, so try to pay attention to your child’s behavior and actions. Another warning sign that your child could be the cyberbully is if they use multiple online accounts and have several different usernames for every site. Cyberbullies almost always hide their identity from others, so having different usernames makes it harder for others to track them down. In addition, when confronted about their habits, cyberbullies tend to blame others for their actions, such as others starting the bullying, or they were merely "protecting themselves." If this is the case, talk to your child about how everything started, and ask to see the conversation in order to help them. Kids will usually get nervous in this kind of situation if they have something to hide and will then admit to being the bully.

School Bully

Warning signs of school bullies most often come from school officials that call the parents to inform them of fights, detentions, or aggressive behavior that their child has engaged in. Parents can confront their children about these instances, or can even set up parent-teacher conferences wherein the children are present as well and must explain to both sides what happened – usually allowing time for the child to admit guilt and understand the consequence of their actions. Parents of bullies can also spot if their child is engaging in bullying tactics if they come home with extra, unexpected money or new belongings. Bullies usually coerce their victims into giving them things, so this could be a very important warning sign. Bullies also tend to gain a new, unexpected, aggressive, and somewhat competitive personality. Oddly enough, when parents begin to ask their children why they have developed such a competitive attitude, they begin to blame others for the problem, and never admit to their actions. If parents notice these warning signs, it is important for them to have discussions with their children about their behaviors and consequences. Being proactive and not letting your child blame others for their actions can help you stop your child from becoming, or becoming known as, the school bully.