A mother of a 9-year-old girl is concerned about changes in behavior. Her once highly social daughter doesn’t want to hang out with her friends anymore, so she develops mysterious medical symptoms just before soccer practice. She can’t sleep. She rarely eats. All she wants to do is hide in her room. When her mother leaves the room, this young girl sits in silence for quite some time as she gathers the courage to utter the words that she’s afraid to say to her mom: "They all hate me."
As it turns out, third grade is not a great year for this girl. Her friends are now enemies, and they do things like knock things off her desk when the teacher isn’t looking to embarrass her in front of the class, whisper about her (while looking right at her) at the lunch table, and start group texts about her that the kids talk about at school. Yes, you read that right: group texts containing gossip and rumors in third grade.
Bullying isn’t what it once was. Sure, we see horrific instances of physical bullying caught on video in the news at times, but many kids endure chronic bullying in a more secretive form: relational aggression. In fact, according to research compiled by The Ophelia Project, 48 percent of students are regularly exposed to relational aggression, with students ages 11 to 15 exposed to 33 acts of relational aggression during a typical week. Statistics on cyberbullying range from 10 to 40 percent.
Kids don’t always seek help for bullying right away for a variety of reasons. Some fear the bullying will actually get worse if school administrators get involved, and some are determined to solve the problem independently. Some are scared, rightfully so, and hoping it will resolve on its own. Some are humiliated and experience feelings of shame as a result. And some don’t believe they have the necessary support systems in place.
A lot of kids deal with something called relational aggression. Relational aggression is difficult to spot because it flies under the radar of teachers, parents, and other adults. When kids engage in this kind of bullying, they attempt to manipulate or damage relationships through secretive strategies such as gossip, rumors, alliance building, social isolation or exclusion, and public humiliation. Relational aggression can also bleed into cyberbullying when rumor spreading, gossip, and exclusion are carried out via text message apps, social media, or group email.
Unlike verbal or physical aggression, relational aggression can occur day or night and for long periods of time before an adult notices the behavior. Here are the steps you need to take if you think your child is being bullied.