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What can parents do about bullying?

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Around one in four Australian children are affected by bullying at school.As a parent, it can be hard to know what to do if your child is a victim of bullying or if they're the bully themselves.What parents can do to support their children and end bullying?

Bullying happens when somebody causes harm intentionally and repeatedly to a person who has less power than them.

Jessie Mitchell, who is a Senior Advisor on bullying at the Alannah & Madeline Foundation, says bullying can take several forms.

"Bullying can take forms that are physical like pushing or kicking. Bullying can be verbal such as threatening someone or teasing them in a nasty way. And bullying can be covert or social, so that includes spreading nasty rumours about someone or humiliating someone in a social situation. And of course, we know that bullying can be a problem online."

She says bullying can happen anywhere, but that it's very common for it to happen at school.

"School is a common place where bullying can happen. One recent bullying study in Australia found that about 80% of students thought the playground was one of the most common place to be bullied, but bullying can also happen in a lot of other places too so maybe on a school bus, in a public space or in cyberspace, of course."

Kids Helpline Counsellor Belinda Beaumont says that it's important to understand that cyberbullying can be especially invasive.

"For a lot of parents, when they were growing up, they might have experienced bullying at school, at social functions, that sort of thing. But when they got home, home would be their safe place where they wouldn't have to deal with that anymore. Yet, for young people, because they're always connected, the bullying, it can feel like it never stops. When they're at home, they might be receiving messages and seeing things online."

Andre Carvalho is the CEO of Bully Zero. He says that no matter how severe the situation, your children might not share with you what's happening.

"One of the challenges is that children sometimes don't want to tell parents that they're being bullied because the parent might take their device away if it's cyberbullying or the parent might go down to the school. So the really key thing, first of all, is to really listen to what's going on."

 He recommends looking out for changes in your child's behaviour.

"Changes in eating and sleeping patterns. Frequent tears or anger. One important and common one is not wanting to go to school and feeling ill in the morning, that's a really red flag to look out for. Unexplained bruises, cuts and scratches as a physical sign of your child potentially being bullied."

If your child says they're being bullied, it's important to stay calm and let them know they've done the right thing by telling you.

Ask them for the full story and explain that bullying is never ok and that's it's normal to feel upset.

Jessie Mitchell recommends to encourage them to not get angry or aggressive in response to bullying because it often makes things worst.

"There's no magic way to stop bullying, but some children find it helpful to use avoidance or humour or to act bored or unimpressed or just let the person who's bullying them know in a clear way that their behaviour is stupid. And having friends who support you is also very helpful."

She says that you should connect with your child's school to discuss the situation. Make an appointment and start with the staff member who knows your child best, like their main teacher.

Write down a list of the incidents mentioned by your child and take it with you to the meeting.

"We know from a recent survey of teacher that 80% of teachers who found out about a bullying incident didn't know about it until someone reported it so don't assume that the school knows what's going on."

Every school in Australia has an anti-bullying policy so prepare yourself by reading the document before your meeting.

The school and teachers will most likely want the bullying to stop so remember that you're on the same team.

If the bullying happens online, you can also report it to the website where it happens, like Instagram or Facebook.

If the content is not taken down, eSafety commissioner Julie Inman Grant explains that you can report it at esafety.gov.au.

"If they report to the social media site and that serious cyberbullying is not taken down, they can come to us and we will act as a safety net and advocate on behalf of that young person to compel the social media site to take that harmful content down. We've helped about 1200 young Australians through that process and we have a 100% compliance rate with the social media sites."

Your child could also be on the other side of this and be the bully. Once again, it's important to stay calm and take the situation seriously.

Andre Carvalho says you need to make it clear that bullying is unacceptable and that it must stop.

"You need to let your child know that this is serious and that you'll help make sure by providing help to your child that it will not continue. However, it's important that you don't lecture, a simple statement will really help you to get your point across better. 'I need you to know that bullying is unacceptable and that it must stop'. I think it's a very helpful way to get your point across."

Try to understand if there's a reason why your child is behaving this way.

"Talking it over can be really helpful to find out if the child is upset, jealous, unhappy or perhaps is being bullied themselves. It's really about finding the root of the issue."

Make sure that the school is aware of what's going on, and work alongside them.

Whether your child has been bullied or has bullied, it might be good for them to talk to a counsellor or the Kids Helpline.

As a parent, you can also find more information on bullying via the Kids Helpline and Parentline, which can provide interpreters.

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