That outlook helps to refine the approach to identify and prevent bullying behavior, which wreaks havoc on all those involved, including bystanders. Bullies can develop aggressive behavior as adults, while their victims may long grapple with anxiety and depression. A 2008 study in Australia found that adults bullied as kids were three times more likely to have suicidal thoughts compared to those who weren't. And while bullying may peak in adolescence, it never disappears – it just morphs into things we've given different labels, like harassment.
Below are some tools to help you prevent and detect bullying among youth and repair its damage:
1. Talk to your kids. It's not always easy to get your kids to open up to you. But that doesn't mean you should stop trying. Ask every day about their day – who they ate lunch with or played with at recess, suggests Susan Swearer, professor of educational psychology who researches bullying at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. That will lay the groundwork for your children to pipe up about little things, before a crisis emerges, she says. Ask about their online activities as well. Often, kids don't understand the impact of their online behavior and require education about privacy settings and their "digital reputation," says Sameer Hinduja, co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center and criminology professor at Florida Atlantic University. "Broach the topic, even if it seems a little bit clumsy because you don't know the technological jargon," he says. "The Internet is not just part of their lives. It is their lives."
2. Be an example. Your kids are watching – and learning from – your behavior. "If we call someone a name," or "get upset with someone and hang up on [them]," they might follow suit, Young says.
3. Look for changes in your child's behavior or belongings."Trust your instincts," Young says. "You know your child." If an outgoing kid becomes withdrawn or a strong student's grades drop, take notice. Beware, too, of kids feigning excuses, like stomachaches, to stay home from school or taking different routes to school. And pay attention to personal items that are missing, torn or mysteriously show up in their belongings. These signs may indicate a child is being bullied or bullying someone else, Temkin says.
4. Treat the problem. Your response to bullying behavior will depend on the incident. But there is plenty of help to guide you. For starters, the child must alert a parent or trusted adult when feeling threatened, intimidated or excluded. Then, document the incident, and reach out to your allies. "It's very important for the parents to have good relationships with their children's teachers," Swearer says. Unless the conflict involves a kid whose parent you know well, it's often best to tackle the incident with the help of a school professional who can act as a mediator. "When the day is done, most parents are going to defend their children," she says.
If the case involves cyberbullying, contact website administrators to have the offending posts pulled from the site, and work with your child and school to resolve the problem, Hinduja says. Do not respond by shutting off Internet access at home or banning your child's use of Facebook, he warns. "Those are all very, very bad responses because then the kid is never going to come to you again."