Bully Documentary Ignites a National Conversation About the Harmful Mental Health Effects of Bullying

AscentiveCyber Safety news from the Ascentive team

This year 13 million American kids will be bullied and three million students will be absent because they feel unsafe at school, according to the documentary Bully. Bully sheds light on the harmful mental health effects bullying can have and has inspired a national conversation about how parents and educators should deal with this nationwide crisis.

“Bullying is a very serious issue that can result not only in immediate physical injury, but in lifelong emotional scars as well,” said Angela Mohan, a California-based licensed marriage and family therapist and member of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. “Bullying in 2012 isn’t the same thing that parents may have experienced when they were young. Teens face bullies at school, home and in the online world. There’s no escape.”

Talking about how to handle bullies and how parents and educators can provide needed support is critically important. Parents and educators need to take action to identify bullying that may be happening now, to stop bullying that is taking place and to prevent it from happening in the future.

CounselingCalifornia.com offers conversation guidance for parents and educators who suspect their child or student is being bullied:

  •      Ask a general, open-ended inquiry: “Is anything going on at school or online with your friends/classmates that you want to talk about”? If the child seems hesitant to open up, don’t force the issue.
  •      Share a personal story: “When I was in high school…” Parents can relate with their child and encourage a conversation by telling a story about a time when they were bullied at school or at work.
  •      Make a direct inquiry: “Are you being bullied”?

On the flip side, if you suspect your child or student is acting like a bully, it is important to talk about the serious and lasting impact bullying can have on children and the potential consequences the child may face for being a bully. Equally important is talking to your child about changing his or her behavior.

CounselingCalifornia.com offers tips for parents and educators who suspect their child or student is acting as a bully:

  •      Sit down and talk to your child or student.  Be gentle but firm in your approach.  Ask open-ended questions to reduce the risk of the child becoming defensive (like, “Tell me what happened,” or “Your actions have hurt someone.  What do you think your consequence should be”?).  Is there any provocation (real or perceived)?
  •      If you are too aggressive (physically and/or verbally) in your response to bullying, you will be reinforcing the behavior.  Some ideas of appropriate consequences are to have the child make amends with the victim (to restore a sense of safety), do a community service, do special chores around the house, or remove a privilege or valued item for a while.
  •      Set clear and firm boundaries as to what is acceptable or not.  Set clear and firm consequences if the behavior continues.  Follow through consistently.

Some kids may be reluctant to talk about bullying. They might be embarrassed, afraid of the repercussions of telling someone or simply uncomfortable talking about it. If this is the case, parents or educators should enlist the help of another adult with whom their child is comfortable, such as an aunt or uncle, school counselor, pastor or talk therapy with a licensed marriage and family therapist.

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