NurseAsk Nurse Lisa

Bullying

What is bullying?

Bullying is an imbalance of power between the victim and the bully. This can mean someone picking on another person because they are older, they are bigger or stronger, or they are taking advantage of vulnerable people. Anyone can have bully behaviors. Anyone can also be a bystander (or witness) or victim. This includes you, your peers, or even your teachers.

The bully is the aggressor towards the victim. The victim is the bully’s target. The bystander is someone who stands by and witnesses the bullying without doing anything. Sometime there are people that support the bully, by instigating, and letting someone else take over the bullying.

Bullying is aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived imbalance of power that has the potential to be or is being repeated. In Native peoples, bullying is just one of the many things that can influence thoughts of suicide in youth. Bullying may seem daunting to tackle, but there are steps we can all take to help prevent and lessen the negative effects of bullying!

What are the different kinds of bullying?

This one is the easiest to identify. It can include pushing or shoving, hitting, slapping, hair pulling, scratching, or any other form of physical abuse that ranges from minor irritation to hospitalization.

This one is usually the first choice of a bully because it’s quick and simple. It includes teasing, name-calling, intimidation, demeaning or inappropriate jokes, or rumors, gossip or slander.

This includes sexual assault like inappropriate touching/unwanted contact, as well as demeaning someone about their gender or sexuality or posting inappropriate photos online (yes, even photo-shopped ones).

Often done by a group, but not limited to groups, this form of abuse hurts the person on the inside. It can be done by leaving someone out on purpose, slander, or publicly humiliating the person.

With many people using smart phones and on social platforms like Snapchat, TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook, cyber-bullying is very common. It includes mean texts, posting videos, stories, or photos that ridicule, or spreading rumors via social networks. Harassment can also happen through Cyber-bullying. Being online, many threats, angry and hurtful words are worsened because there is no direct contact with people.

This is more common among girls. It can include things like exluding individuals from activities, spreading rumors, ignoring or isolating an individual, telling people not to be friends with this person, or trying to embarrass this person in public or on social media.

What can you do?

It is good to be aware of reasons why bullying may occur. For example, some issues around bullying go very deep, like racism, discrimination, sex, sexual orientation and gender identity, religion and disability. For many individuals, they belong to more than just one of theses groups, which makes discrimination even worse. For example, Alaska Native LGBTQ individuals may experience discrimination related to both racism and LGBTQ hatred and violence. 

Check out the Alaska Anti-Bullying Laws and Policies here and the Federal StopBullying site here to find out what your rights are.

What if someone I know is being bullied?

It’s hard being a bystander. Do you just walk by and ignore it? Do you risk being bullied yourself by standing up for this person? The answers to these questions seem ambiguous, but they’re simple enough to answer.

If someone is in immediate danger, or you witness a fight, do not try to break it up. If you’re at school or in town, go run to tell an adult or someone who will be able to handle the situation with authority. If nobody else is nearby, try to get the aggressor to stop by shouting verbally “STOP!”, claim that someone like a teacher, parent, or older relative is coming, and make sure they are, or call 911 if necessary. Be loud and let the bully know that they’ve been caught.

If someone has just been physically or sexually assaulted, they need comfort, and may need a visit to the clinic to determine if there is long-term damage. Bullying often results in concussions, double vision, punctured eardrums, broken bones, or bruises and cuts. Help them get away from the abuser and to help in the form of parent, teacher, doctor, nurse, or neighbor.

If someone is being emotionally or verbally abused, speak up for them! Put yourself in their shoes. If you don’t, you’re only encouraging, or enabling, the bully’s behavior. You may be afraid that the bully will retaliate against you, but you have strength in numbers, and your testimony helps the victim’s. Take the victim aside and let them know that you’re there for them, even if it’s just someone to talk to or a shoulder to cry on, they need you! They also probably need help approaching a trusted adult about this situation.


Tips for Parents

This is a very complicated question that millions of parents face every day. Children who don’t want to go to school to avoid being bullied suffer in school and with friendships in over time. You may have already had to move schools, or if you’re located in the village, there may not be another school to go to. Know that you are not powerless in this situation.

First of all, if your child has told you that they are being bullied, that’s good news in disguise, as they have spoken up for themselves in their discomfort. If your child hasn’t told you, that doesn’t mean that they haven’t been bullied or aren’t being bullied right now, as two out of three children don’t like to tell for several reasons:

  • Negative beliefs about “tattling” or “snitching” are persistent through childhood
  • They may be used to “boys will be boys” as an excuse for boys bullying their classmates (which isn’t okay)
  • They may think their bully (or their bully’s relations) retaliating against them (or ‘payback’)
  • They may have a lack of confidence or faith in adults’ actions making a real difference

It is important to speak to your child about the culture they experience in school, and to watch out for signs of bullying. As you may know, kids sometimes have two sides, the side they show you at home and the side they have at school. Make sure the child understands that it is not their fault that they are being bullied. Some things to watch out for in the case of a victim:

  • Unexplained bruising/avoiding talking about injuries
  • Damage to or loss of physical property like torn/wet books, binders, backpacks, jewelry, electronics, or writing on things that isn’t their handwriting.
  • Often having headaches or stomachaches, feeling sick, or faking illness (that is to say, overwhelmingly so, don’t doubt a real sickness!)
  • Changes in eating habits like skipping meals or eating too quickly. They may come home hungry because they didn’t eat lunch that was stolen, or may hide food.
  • Difficulty sleeping or frequent nightmares, bed-wetting that isn’t normal for their age
  • Worsening grades, loss of interest in schoolwork, not wanting to go to school
  • Loss of friends or avoiding social situations
  • Feelings of helplessness or low self-esteem, may act out in anger against small rules
  • Self-destructive behaviors like running away from home, harming themselves through cutting or banging head/limbs, talking about suicide

Your child could have only one or many of these symptoms of being bullied, but it’s important to ask them first before thinking the worst. Approach the child with your concerns, and let them know that you are there to help and cooperate with them to stop it.

Your child may not be the victim, but the bully instead. Here are some things to watch out for:

  • Getting into physical or verbal fights, increasingly aggressive towards others
  • Having friends who bully others
  • Getting sent to the principal’s or detention frequently
  • Unexplained money or new belongings
  • Blaming others, like siblings/cousins, for problems, avoiding responsibility for their actions
  • Overly competitive/prideful and worry about their reputation or popularity

People may be eager to blame parents for their children’s inappropriate behavior, but know that there are many reasons why you may not have been aware. In the same vein, don’t go looking for someone to blame for your child’s behavior, or wondering who they picked it up from. This lends a community to “witch hunts” for who is to blame, and can lead to arguments between parents.

You can be a good parent but have a child who is bullying others. Much the same as with a child who is being bullied. It is helpful to know if your child is bullying other kids, because you can then work out your action plan from there.


This page was informed by Standing Together Against Rape.

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