October is National Bullying Month, dedicated to remedying a problem that affects nearly one in three students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. While this may seem like only a big-kid problem, it's not: Bullying has filtered down to grade school and even to preschool. Some research even shows that tormenting has become more common among 2- to 6-year-olds than among tweens and teens.
That's why the Cartoon Network is hosting its 5th Annual Stop Bullying: Speak Up campaign this month. The aim is to give elementary-school children the tools to speak up against bullying, both by talking about strategies to combat it and by creating a strong support network. The campaign has already surpassed its goal of collecting one million online video pledges from parents, students, government officials, celebrities, and educators vowing to say something if they see bullying taking place. They're still taking submissions—upload yours (and have your kid join in if he or she is old enough) at stopbullyingspeakup.com. The network has been airing select videos throughout the month alongside PSAs encouraging kids to speak up against bullying. There's good reason to do so: More than half of bullying situations (57 percent) stop when a child intervenes on behalf of a child being bullied.
Bullying isn't just hurtful in the moment. It takes a long-term toll on kids—both victims and perpetrators. Students who experience bullying are at increased risk for depression, anxiety, and sleep difficulties. Bullies, meanwhile, are at heightened risk for substance use, academic problems, and violence in adolescence and adulthood.
In order to shed light on this growing problem, Cartoon Network brought together a panel that included Richard Weissbourd, Ph.D., a child and family psychologist at the Harvard School of Education, and Dorothy Espelage, Ph.D., a professor of child development at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, to discuss anti-bullying strategies.
While having a parent get involved can be embarrassing for a child (or even make bullying worse), there are ways to help your kid without worsening the situation. While it's a natural tendency to tell a bullied child to "hit back" or encourage him to defuse a situation with humor, the best solution is to work with your child to find out what action he's most comfortable taking. If you decide to take the matter to a school administrator, it's critical to follow up. Don't assume the issue has been resolved after a single conversation, because schools often don't follow through. Both Dr. Weissbourd and Dr. Espelage encouraged parents to do their homework by studying state bullying laws to force action. You might also come armed with this statistic: School-based bullying-prevention programs decrease its incidence by up to 25 percent
If you suspect your child may be bullying another child, ask, "Is my child a caring community member in this school?" at your next parent-teacher conference. Many kids report that their parents care more about their academic achievements than whether they're caring and respectful members of the school community. You should also watch your own actions, since bullying is often a modeled behavior. Make sure your child understands consequences and responsibility, and the effects of his actions. As Dr. Weissbbourd explained, the idea is to raise ethical kids—ones who understand why bullying is wrong and can determine a successful way to stop it on their own.
Photo by Nathaniel Chadwick. Copyright 2014: Cartoon Network. A Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.