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Parents get tips on how to recognize bullying

| Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012, 8:52 p.m.

Not all bad behavior is defined as bullying. Some things that are just normal child interaction.

That's according to Annette Conti, supervisor of special education with the Uniontown Area School District.

Conti hosted a bullying seminar for the community last week at the Fayette County Behavioral Health offices in Uniontown.

The goal for the evening was for parents to recognize a bully and learn what to do if a child is bullied or is the bully.

Conti said fighting over an item or calling someone a name is not always considered bullying.

Bullying is intentionally aggressive behavior from verbal or physical to social or cyber bullying.

To be considered as bullying, there must be an imbalance of power, the action must be repeated over time, and it must be unprovoked and intentional.

Conti said horseplay, good-natured teasing, a sudden brief clash between classmates and typical girlfriend disagreements are not considered bullying.

According to the National Youth Violence Prevention Center, almost 30 percent of youths in the United States are estimated to be involved in bullying either as a bully or victim.

Conti believes this statistic is low because there are a number of children out there who do not report when they're bullied.

Social bullying is when a child is humiliated or demeaned in front of peers, and the extortionist is an opportunistic bully who uses force or the threat of force to obtain something.

The Internet has opened the door to cyber bullying.

Bullying generally begins in the elementary grades and peaks in the sixth through eighth grades but often persists into high school, Conti said.

“Bullying is a hidden problem,” she said. “Seventy-one percent of teachers report they intervene often or almost always when a student is being bullied, but only 23 percent of the children agree because bullies are often careful to harass their classmates outside of the presence of adults.”

There are several ways to determine if a child is a victim of bullying, she said. The victim might have a sudden loss of or increase in appetite, difficulty in falling asleep, unexplained bed wetting, fear of using the bathroom at school, going directly to their room to change their clothes after school or asking for, stealing or begging for extra lunch money.

The victim might also exhibit different psychological clues, such as moodiness, explosive behavior, depression, distress or anxiety.

If parents suspect their child is being bullied, Conti said, they should encourage the child for reporting the situation, be good listeners, let the child know it's not their fault, ask what would help them feel safe, and report the situation to the school.

She said parents should not ignore a child's concern; they should not confront the parent of the bully, and they should not accuse the teacher of not doing their job.

If parents determine their child is a bully, Conti said, they should intervene immediately, determine the motivation, and examine the child's psychological health and their peer groups.

“You need to accept there is a problem that needs addressed, assess the underlying causes, make it clear that you expect the bullying to stop, and implement consequences for bullying behavior,” she said.

One also should be realistic in expectations and keep the lines of communication open.

Rachel Basinger is a freelance writer.

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