Preparing for the fall semester should be exciting. Unfortunately, for some students back to school means back to being bullied. Being picked on at school is nothing new, but nowadays bullying is even more common than most of us realize.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 1 in 5 students report being bullied -- and bullying happens in different ways. Of those bullied, 13 percent were ridiculed or called names; 12 percent were subject to negative remarks; 5 percent were pushed, shoved or even spat upon; and 5 percent were purposely excluded from activities. Of course, cyberbullying is more prevalent than ever.
Moreover, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that victims of bullying are at risk for poor school adjustment, sleep difficulties and depression. Victims are also more prone to suffer from headaches and stomachaches. Bullies themselves are at risk for substance abuse, academic problems and violence later in adolescence and adulthood.
Bullying can happen anywhere -- in the classroom, in the lunchroom, in the restroom, on the bus and, of course, on the playground -- but bullies tend to strike when adult supervisors are either absent or otherwise distracted. When it occurs, students of all ages should be encouraged to report bullying to their parents or to their school administrators, counselors or resource officers.
As an adult and a parent, it's important for children to know you will listen to them and do all you can to help them. Counselors often remind parents that they shouldn't place blame on the child by asking questions such as, "Did you do something that might have made them bully you?"
If your child is being bullied, speak up. If he or she suffers from anxiety or depression, ask your pediatrician or the school counselor for a referral to a licensed psychologist. Younger students, whether they have been bullied or not, might benefit from reading one or more of the following books: "Chrysanthemum," by Kevin Henkes; "The Recess Queen," by Alexis O'Neill and Laura Huliska-Beith; and "Tease Monster," by Julia Cook.
Remember, a confident child is less likely to be bullied, says Jerry Bola, a martial arts instructor and creator of the DVD training program "Martial Arts Extreme." Tell your child he or she can be assertive without being violent. Bullies tend to prey on those they can easily abuse, emotionally and physically, says Bola. "That's why it's important to let them know they can't push you around," he says.
"Children who know they can defend themselves can much more easily look a bully in the eye and brush off their taunts without letting things escalate. They are able to stay calm as they speak to the bully."
In fact, getting your child involved in any activity in which they can excel -- playing baseball, learning martial arts, running track or playing an instrument -- can also serve to improve their self-confidence and self-esteem. So, strive to get them in shape mentally and physically.
"As you transform your body, you'll also transform your mind to be more focused, more disciplined and more aware. For example, there is confidence that comes from martial arts training. That confidence alone is enough to help you stand up to bullies without ever actually fighting them," Bola says. "You'll build the confidence to know that you have what it takes to not only stand up against bullies, but to overcome any challenge in life."