The words that help bullied kids

A new study shows that victims of bullying had an overwhelming amount of support from parents, classmates, friends and other adults. (AP Photo)

What did one in seven girls and one in six boys have in common in a new Canadian study? These 10-year-olds got bullied several times a week at school -- most often by fellow students who called them names, taunted them and tried to turn them into social outcasts.

But many of these potential victims had something special on their side that buffered some of bullying’s damaging effects on mood and self-esteem -- the support of friends, classmates, parents and other adults. Researchers from the University of British Columbia found that bullied kids felt depressed, anxious and dissatisfied with their lives. But those who had positive relationships with other people had higher levels of self-confidence and felt better about life than kids who tried to cope on their own. This was especially true for girls.

This study deserves parents’ attention for two reasons:

First, it illustrates just how common, frequent and brutal bullying can be.  The results come from questionnaires given to 3,026 ten-year-olds from 72 schools in Vancouver, Canada -- so it was a large study and relied on kids’ own reports of their experience, both signs that the researchers’ findings reflect reality.

Second, it offers proof that even when it’s difficult for parents to fix a bullying problem at school in the short term, talking about the experience can be helpful for a kid going through it.  That’s a great lesson for parents and other adult relatives as well as for teachers and guidance counselors.

It’s also worth telling other kids about. Despite efforts in schools to make bullying unacceptable, sometimes it’s hard to stop.  Encouraging kids to be compassionate and supportive of a bullied friend or classmate gives them a positive way to take a stand -- and help a kid in need. Kids who’ve witnessed or heard about a bullying incident may not feel that they can make it end and so may feel helpless and worried. Giving a bullied classmate support can be empowering.

The government-sponsored website offers these tips for kids who want to help out a bullied friend:

  • A bystander can help by spending time with the person being bullied at school. Simple gestures like talking to them, sitting with them at lunch, or inviting them to play sports or other games during physical education or recess can help a lot.
  • Advise the child to listen to the person being bullied, let them talk about the event.
  • They can call the person being bullied at home to provide support, encourage them and give advice.
  • Bystanders can try sending a text message or going up to the person who was bullied later. They can let that person know that what happened wasn’t cool, and that they’re there for them.
  • A bystander can help by telling the person being bullied that they don’t like the bullying and asking them if he can do anything to help.
  • Bystanders can also help the person being bullied talk to a trusted adult.