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Bullying in Elementary & Middle Schools

Bullying, How to Talk to Your Child

Elementary school is an exciting time for children and parents. Going off to school, making friends, participating in activities—there’s a lot happening! As children interact with each other, they develop important social skills. Learning how to interact positively with peers and other people takes practice. On the other hand, some youth try to look tough, be a big shot, or hurt other kids.

Children need to learn that bullying is not okay.


Bullying Affects All Middle School Kids

Many adults know that middle school is a time of change but they may not understand the full extent of the many challenges kids face. Many middle school kids experience confusion between the desire to be accepted, which is strongest in middle school, at the same time that:

  • Kids report more bullying than students in grades 9 and 10.1

  • Almost 9 out of 10 kids say they’ve seen someone being bullied.2

  • For every 25 middle school kids, an average of 2 kids are harassed daily and another 2 to 3 are bullied weekly.3
  • Modern technology has added new ways to bully — cyberbullying.

  • During this transition from childhood to adolescence, middle schoolers begin to place more importance on making friends and being part of a group. They also start to check out how other kids act, look, sound, and dress.
  • Some kids may seem to be searching for a reason to tease or torment another student.

  • Alone or as part of a group, youth can take part in bullying. In a growing number of incidences, the term "bully" includes the children who watch the bullying occur — even if they don’t actively participate. Witnessing bullying behavior can be defined as condoning it.

According to a KidsHealth KidsPoll of more than 1,200 boys and girls aged 9 to 13, for every 100 kids, an average of:
  • Eight are bullied every day.
  • Seven are bullied every week, but not every day.
  • Some 33 are bullied once in a while, but not every week.
  • 73 percent say bullying is un-cool or very un-cool.
  • 41 percent of kids who have seen someone bullied say or do something to try and stop it.
  • 23 percent also tell someone they think could help.
What Is Bullying?

Bullying is a form of abuse, harassment, violence, and/or manipulation that harms or frightens other youth. Children act like bullies in several ways—usually when one or more kids uses threats, violence, or intimidation to negatively affect someone else. In addition to physical harassment, bullying happens when one kid or a bunch of kids are really mean to someone just to hurt her feelings, laugh at her, show dislike, or prove that one child isn’t as good as the others.

Are There Different Kinds of Bullying?

Yes. Bullying can be physical or verbal as well as indirect or direct. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration:

Indirect bullying — being excluded from a group, being ridiculed and kept from making friends—can be just as painful. Some examples of indirect bullying are avoiding a certain kid and spreading rumors. These kinds of actions may not be against the rules but can be very hurtful.

Direct physical bullying involves hitting, kicking, taking money, pushing, or tripping. Verbal abuse can be obvious or subtle, such as insults, offensive and sneering comments, name calling, tone of voice, or even a roll of the eyes.

Teasing someone who clearly shows signs of distress is also bullying. Children can focus on any aspect of another youth—being the new child in a class, having a disability, or not having adequate money for clothing or school supplies—or any other excuse they can think of. While teasing between friends is usually gentle or funny, mean teasing focuses on making one person feel bad. For example, calling an overweight student “Slim” points out a physical difference and attempts to make the student feel ashamed and ridiculed.

Group bullying is when a few children get together and one (or more of them) picks on someone else. Even though the other kids may not actively participate in the bullying, by not stopping it or walking away, they consent and condone it. By passively participating in the bullying, the bullying can escalate and add hurt and frustration to the child being victimized.

When other kids don’t stop the bully or walk away, it may seem as if they approve of what’s happening.

Where Do Kids Bully?

Most bullying happens at school (40 to 75%) — in the hallways, bathrooms, cafeterias, playgrounds, and classroom. Some bullying also happens on the way to or from school, such as on the sidewalks or on the bus. Middle school students often switch classrooms, which provides more opportunities for bullies to pick on kids in the hallway. Bullying also can happen on the way to or from school, including on the bus.

Bullying not only harms the child being bullied, but also harms the child who bullies and the kids who watch.


Who Bullies the Most?

Boys are generally bullied by other boys while girls are bullied by both boys and girls.

Girls bully, too.
Yes, girls participate in bullying, too. Sometimes they use physical violence, but mostly they use social pressure to exclude or hurt other girls. For example, ignoring a certain girl, never sitting near her at lunch or playing with her at recess, or excluding her from party invitations are considered to be forms of bullying. Girls are more likely to use indirect methods of bullying — like a roll of the eyes, a mocking tone of voice, and sarcasm. Gossiping and spreading harmful rumors is a form of bullying and can damage someone’s reputation. Even though social pressure isn’t physical, like tripping or taking someone’s lunch money, it can still be very painful.

What Are Signs of Being Bullied?

The best way to know what’s going on in your child’s life — at school, after school, during practice, or while hanging out with friends — is to be involved. Create a daily routine in which you and your child chat casually about his day. Take the time to listen, ask questions, and respond.

  • Acting depressed.

  • Withdrawing socially.

  • Complaining frequently of illnesses.

  • Not wanting to go to school or avoiding certain classes.

  • Stating that she feels picked on or persecuted.

  • Displaying mood swings, including frequent crying.

  • Talking about running away.

  • Attempting to take protection to school, such as a stick, rock, or knife.

  • Comes home with torn, dirty, or wet clothes or damaged books, or “loses” things without being able to give a proper explanation of what happened

  • Has bruises, cuts, scratches, and injuries that can’t be explained

  • Chooses an “illogical” route to and from school

  • Seems unhappy, downhearted, depressed, or has mood swings with sudden outbursts of irritation or anger

  • Steals or asks for extra money to bribe or soften up the bully.

What If Your Child Is Being Bullied?

Bullying is serious — treat it that way. The best way to know what’s going on in your child’s life — at school, after school, during practice, or while hanging out with friends—is to be involved. Ask lots of questions and listen to their answers.

Support your child. If your child reports feeling bullied, don’t laugh, shrug it off, or explain that it’s "just the age." Be prepared to speak to teachers, coaches, and other adults in charge because they may not have noticed the behavior. A parent may ask for a meeting to discuss what is happening. Parents also can develop relationships with parents of other children in the same neighborhood or school. When several parents know about the bullying, or have children who are affected, they may be in a better position to deal with school staff members.

Try and create a daily routine where your child tells you about his day. Take the time to listen and respond.

If your child reports feeling bullied, don’t laugh or shrug it away or explain that it’s "just the age." Bullying is serious — treat it that way. Be prepared to speak to teachers, coaches, and other adults in charge because they may not have noticed the behavior. One possible solution is to have a meeting to discuss what is happening.

Why Do Kids Bully?

Children act like bullies for many reasons. Some youth bully because that’s the way people act in their family. Some kids bully because they want attention or to feel cool. Other children who are insecure give others a hard time because they like the feeling of power and control. Some simply feel that they are better than other kids. Others may want to retaliate if they’ve been bullied by someone else.

According to youth, the most important reasons for bullying are that they think it will make them popular (35 percent) and to get their own way or push others around (32 percent).

Children who bully often are impulsive, easily frustrated, have difficulty following rules, and lack empathy or being able to understand how others feel. Boys who bully often are physically stronger than other children. Participating in bullying is not just "a regular part of growing up" — it’s serious. When a child begins bullying at a young age, he is demonstrating unacceptable behavior that can continue for a lifetime.

What Can Parents and Caregivers Do If Their Child Bullies?

Lots of elementary school children are bossy, rowdy, or tease their friends. These actions can escalate into meaner behavior. But has your child’s behavior crossed the line into bullying? Bullying not only harms the child being bullied, it also harms the child who bullies as well as the kids who watch.

Participating in bullying is not just a regular part of growing up — it’s serious. When a child begins bullying at a young age, he is demonstrating unacceptable behavior that can continue for a lifetime.

Of boys and girls aged 9 to 13:
  • 26 percent bully others every day.
  • 22 percent bully others once in a while.
  • 20 percent join in when they see someone else being bullied.
  • 16 percent do nothing when they see someone else being bullied.
  • 5 percent bully others every week

Having a Bully-Free Family

How can you stop a child’s bullying behavior? Good question. One way to start is to examine the dynamics of your own family. Is it possible that the child is copying behavior he’s seen modeled? What are your family’s rules about how to talk to each other? Let your children know what’s okay and what’s not okay. Every child needs to learn the importance of treating other people with respect. Make sure your children understand that it’s not right to take advantage or hurt someone just because they feel as if they can.

Humor is a great element to include in your family’s conversations, just make sure to keep it positive. Playful teasing is normal — usually it’s something funny between two people who already know each other. For example, if your child finishes everything on his plate at dinner and his grandparent says, “I guess you weren’t very hungry,” that would be gentle teasing. In contrast, mean teasing is hurtful and is intended to hurt the person’s feelings.

If a child’s behavior seems like bullying to you, it probably is. Parents need to set limits and show what acceptable behavior is. After all, bullying can even happen in the home. If parents ignore behavior they don’t like, they are accepting it. Do not ignore this behavior or hope he’ll grow out of it. Bullying is not something that is likely to disappear. Bullying hurts everybody!


Bully-Free at Home

Every child needs to learn the importance of treating others with respect.

Middle school often is seen as the growing-up years between elementary school and high school, when kids are starting to mature but still can tease their friends and be bossy or rowdy. Be watchful so these actions do not escalate into meaner behavior.

If a child’s behavior seems like bullying to you, it probably is. Do not ignore this behavior or hope the child will change. Bullying is not something that is likely to disappear. How can you stop a child’s bullying behavior? Let your children know what’s okay and what’s not.

Make sure your child understands that it’s not right to take advantage of or hurt someone just because he feels he can.

Even with the increasing importance of friends in a young person’s life, peers do not replace parents. Parents and caregivers can talk to youngsters and teach them not to take part in bullying — and that watching is condoning bullying behavior. Discuss different ways that your child can be of help or get help. Bullying hurts everybody!


Conversation Starters for elementary schoolers

  • Who do you hang out with at school? At the playground? During recess?
  • How do your friends treat other kids?
  • What’s it like in the halls and on the bus?
  • What makes it okay to make fun of the child everybody picks on?
  • Do you think some kids deserve a hard time?
  • How do you feel when you see somebody being bullied?


Conversation Starters for middle schoolers
  • Whom do you sit with at lunchtime?
  • How do you feel when you hear kids putting each other down?
  • Have you ever gotten a mean e-mail or an insult on IM?
  • Do you ever see someone picking on another kid? How? What happens?
  • Whom could you get to help a kid who is being bullied? How? What happens to a student who helps or gets help for someone being bullied?
  • When you get angry with someone, what do you do? If someone gets mad at you, how does that person act?


Continue reading about bullying with more articles located at myparentime.com:


Below are some books that discuss bullying. Use Amazon.com's secure server to order:


Click here to read other articles by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.


Copyright © the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.



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