LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - Kids across the state are getting back in the swing of things for in class, on the playground and on the bus, but for some, those are the three places where they will be bullied.
Experts have tracked and studied what bullying looks like today. There's no magic bullet we can put in place to prevent it, but there is plenty of knowledge on how to react to it without overreacting.
“Bullying is a little bit more subtle,” said Kendra Hunt, a counselor at Maumelle Middle School. “A lot of times the word is used so often and may be misused.”
That's the struggle we face with bullying right now. The Centers for Disease Control says about one-in-four kids experience bullying. That's a big number, but thankfully it's not a growing number. In 20 years of studying, the rates are actually going down and Arkansas is included in those trends.
“Bullying is any unwanted, repeated aggressive, whether it be physically aggressive or verbally aggressive, unwanted behavior,” said Tiffany Howell, Ph.D, a pediatric psychologist and clinician at Arkansas Children’s Hospital. “If there’s any kind of perceived imbalance within the relationship. That’s when it’s bullying.”
Bullying can be direct, where the bully acts with the target there or it can be indirect, where it's not directly communicated - usually through spreading rumors.
“The biggest challenge right now is social media,” said Hunt, from her front line spot working with 6th, 7th and 8th-graders. Middle school is the place where bullying is the most prevalent. “School personnel just does not have control over social media.”
While the government stats say cyberbullying is not as common, but both Hunt and Dr. Howell say it complicates the fight.
Every situation is different, but the one common trait for the targets of bullies is a difference. A young person who is perceived as being different is at a greater risk of being targeted.
The signs that it’s happening can become apparent. Look for mysterious injuries or possessions coming home destroyed or stolen. There are also emotional indicators as well.
“If they were normally very outgoing and social and all of a sudden they don't want to attend birthday parties of social events, that kind of thing is usually the red flags,” Dr. Howell said. “The first thing a parent should do is talk to their children.”
Dr. Howell and Hunt both know that’s not easy. A guttural grunt can often pass for “hello” from a teenager. But if the bullying continues, the child will often have difficulty communicating it. That’s when others getting involved can help.
“Bystanders stepping up and getting involved immediately is really good,” Dr. Howell said. “If they don't feel comfortable doing that, at least notifying teachers and whatnot that this is occurring and who the parties are.”
“Just don't be an onlooker,” Hunt said. “Stand up for what's right and even if you're uncomfortable with standing up for what's right, go tell somebody if you see some things happening that you're uncomfortable with.”
Studies have yet to show a direct link between bullying and suicide. That's not to say we can take it lightly. Just that the bullied child isn't doomed.
One large study tracked the most common forms of bullying: First is name-calling with teasing close behind. Spreading rumors is third. After that, comes physical actions like pushing, shoving, hitting and kicking.