One constant across decades of schooling is the persistence of bullying. Try as we might to stamp it out, bullying remains a pernicious force in the hallways and playgrounds of our schools and has even migrated online to smartphones and social media apps in recent years.
Parents can feel helpless when their child is the victim of bullying, but the truth is that there are steps that can be taken to curb bullying in all its forms to avoid real physical and mental harm.
We’ve all spent enough time in school to recognize overt bullying when we see it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) define bullying as “any unwanted aggressive behavior(s) by another youth or group of youths, who are not siblings or current dating partners, that involves an observed or perceived power imbalance, and is repeated multiple times or is highly likely to be repeated.”
What we know about bullying is that it is both distressingly common—20% of children between 12 and 18 report being bullied at some point, per stopbullying.gov—and that it can be perpetrated by anyone within that demographic. Bullying can happen for any reason, but common causes are sexual or gender identity, race or ethnicity, or socioeconomic status.
What we also know is how harmful the effects of bullying can be. We’ve all read heartrending stories of students who commit suicide after prolonged spells of bullying, although it should be noted that bullying is often just one of many factors in those cases. Bullied students are more likely than their peers to suffer from depression and anxiety, which can lead to a loss of sleep, decreased appetite, and declining interest in activities or hobbies. And those students who bully others can be more prone to violence and drug and alcohol abuse as adults.
What we can do about bullying
It can be a struggle for many parents to know how to handle instances of bullying. Plenty of us heard that we needed to “fight our own battles” from our parents, or were given well-intentioned but probably misbegotten advice on how to stand up to bullies. But given what we now know about the long-term effects of bullying, and the possibility of actual physical harm as a result of bullying, it behooves parents today to take a more active role.
Parents need to be observant of signs that their child is being bullied, and be prepared to talk with them about what’s going on at school. That often involves educating your child on what bullying is and checking in with your child regularly to see what’s happening at school and in their life, not just when you suspect bullying. If the bullying your child is enduring is concerning, you can reach out to the school to see what they can do to stop the incidents and support your child. You can also look at the anti-bullying laws in your state as well as federal statutes to see what steps your child’s school is obligated to take to address bullying. A LegalShield lawyer can help with these steps.
Many of us can count ourselves lucky to have grown up in a time when the internet didn’t exist and bullying stopped at our front doors. Kids today have to contend with cyberbullying in addition to the bullying they may face in person at school, offering them no respite from the hurtful and harmful actions of their peers.
Cyberbullying is defined as bullying that takes place in digital spaces, like over text or messaging apps or on social media platforms like Instagram or TikTok or on gaming platforms like Twitch. While cyberbullying doesn’t involve immediate physical harm, it can involve threats of physical violence, as well as hurtful or derogatory comments, plus false or untrue statements meant to harm.
What makes cyberbullying so dangerous is that the threat is persistent; while someone can physically remove themselves from a bully in the physical world, cyberbullies have the ability to send messages, 24 hours a day seven days a week, across multiple platforms. It’s also the case that these messages have a permanence that hurtful taunts in the hallway don’t.
Texts and comments remain online unless removed and can be viewed by others in the case of social media, adding to the pain and humiliation. Perhaps most worryingly, parents and other adults often don’t have much visibility over what their child is doing or posting online, so instances of cyberbullying can be harder to detect and stop.
Legal steps you can take (and when to take them)
Much of stemming cyberbullying involves talking with your child to find out what’s going on and figuring out how to limit what they’re seeing and how to react to it, as well as reaching out to the school to address the issue. But there are instances when cyberbullying can cross a line and legal action needs to be taken. Many states have laws regarding cyberbullying, and if your child feels physically unsafe or is subject to threats of cyberstalking or the release of private personal information or photos, you can work with a lawyer to see what steps you might be able to take with law enforcement.
Parents should be sure to document all of the threatening messages to share with a lawyer if needed, and should try to block and report all of the harassing accounts to limit further interaction and harm.
How LegalShield can help
If you’re worried about the bullying or cyberbullying your child is facing and need help getting the school to abide by the anti-bullying laws in place, or want to avail yourself of the cyberbullying laws to seek intervention from law enforcement, you’ll want to have a lawyer at your side to ensure that the laws in place are upheld and enforced. As a LegalShield member you can talk with a lawyer about this and other issues for the price of your membership.