Sheehan: Parents, watch for signs of bullying

Robert Sheehan

As the excitement of back-to-school now slips into the day-to-day reality of scheduling, homework and afterschool activities, it’s an important time to have a conversation with children about bullying, both to protect children from getting bullied, and prevent the bullying of others as well. October is National Bullying Prevention Month, and there are plenty of opportunities to engage children in the conversation.

According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, one-third of this country’s students will experience bullying during school — as either a target or a perpetrator.

The problem is that most children who are bullied are not likely to tell an adult, simply because they don’t believe adults can help. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry found that children and teens also don’t tell adults they are being bullied because they feel embarrassed or frightened.

Kids may fear being seen as weak or as a tattler and may want to try to handle it on their own. And children who are bullies aren’t likely to share either. Gender is irrelevant when it comes to bullying. Boys tend to be bullied or bully more physically, while girls tend to bully or be bullied in more emotional ways.

The authors of a study published in April 2015 in the journal Lancet Psychiatry noted that “being bullied has similar and in some cases worse long-term adverse effects on young adults’ mental health than being maltreated.”

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) offers the following warning signs that a child is being bullied, but be aware that not all children being bullied exhibit these signs:

■ Missing personal items

■ Physical complaints in an effort to stay home from school

■ Changes in eating and sleeping habits

■ Drop in grades

■ Unhappiness regarding school or trouble in school over behavior

Mental Health America offers insight as to children most likely considered targets of bullying, including:

■ Those seen as different from their peers, depressed, less popular, or unable to get along with peers are more likely to become victims of bullying.

■ High school females (according to a report, high school females are twice as likely as male students to report being cyberbullied and more likely to report being bullied on school property).

■ Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth are at special risk of being bullied (up to 85 percent report being verbally harassed and 40 percent report being physically assaulted).

Because there is an increased risk of suicide associated with bullying, both for those who bully and those bullied, it is important to talk to children about bullying and the importance of intervention. You can start by asking “how was your day” but listen beyond the answer and be watchful for signs of bullying.

Learn more about bullying and what you can do about it at www.stopbullying.gov and visit the Michigan Association of Community Mental Health Boards website at www.macmhb.org to learn what help is available in your community.

Robert Sheehan is chief executive officer of the Michigan Association of Community Mental Health Boards.