Friendship in middle school is a complicated thing. Casual friendships can end with a mood swing or a sudden need to be more popular. But these mood swings or changes in social status can result in something more dramatic and way less cool: bullying.
I transferred to a new school district for middle school. It was hard for a new kid to make friends, but I was fortunate that a group of people welcomed me into their circle. Unfortunately, the day came that one of those girls decided to bully me.
She was the girl who chose to pick on someone new each day. I knew she did that and didn’t agree with it, but since my friend options were limited, I never stood up to her or defended those she would bully.
Inevitably, one day it was my turn. While in the library, she walked up to me and started threatening me. I was confused and asked her why she was acting like that. She responded by pushing me. I tried to leave, but she pushed me again; this time with such force that I tripped over a cart and my head hit a table. At the emergency room I received four stitches on the side of my head.
I have other, less dramatic stories about girls making fun of me because of awkward grooming issues, like knowing when to shave my legs and how to pluck my eyebrows. These comments not only injured my self-esteem, but they led to an overwhelming feeling of isolation and suicidal thoughts.
While my parents obviously knew about the bullying incident in the library, how would they know about the smaller, less severe but more frequent episodes? Like many kids, I didn’t want to tell my parents because I was ashamed and embarrassed. Instead, I acted like nothing was wrong so they wouldn’t notice. So how can parents help their children if they don’t know what’s happening in the hallways?
Know your child’s popularity.
According to a UCLA psychology study, popular students are more likely to become bullies, and students often become more popular if they bully others.
It seems silly to pay attention to things like popularity, but if you know where your child is on the social popularity scale, you can look for signs of being a bully or a victim.
For instance, if your child isn’t in the popular crowd, it’s important to get a sense of how he or she feels about that. If your child isn’t happy with his or her friend circle, look for signs he or she might be bullying others or be a victim of bullying.
Pay attention to behavioral changes.
Talk to your child about his or her friends and the other kids in school. Get an idea whether your child feels like he or she fits in.
If your child was once confident and starts to lose self-esteem, ask about their friends. Is your child trying to change social circles or is your child happy and satisfied with his or her social life?
If your child won’t speak to you about it, talk to his or her friends’ parents to see if you can get an idea of what’s going on. If that’s not an option, share this woman’s story about middle school bullying—it might spark a conversation and help you find out how your child is doing.
Look for physical signs of bullying.
If your child is being physically bullied, it won’t be difficult to spot the signs: bruises, scratches, ripped or unusually dirty clothing. But if your child is being verbally bullied, it will be harder to recognize the signs.
Many children who are bullied will start feeling physically ill before returning to a place where they have been bullied. I used to get horrible stomachaches before going to the classes where students would tease me. If your child starts having more instances of upset stomachs, headaches, colds, etc., ask if kids are making fun of them. They might not expect that question and are likely to give you an honest answer.
Understand that bullying can happen anywhere: in the hallways between classes, at the desks before class starts, on the walk home from school, even—in my case—in the library with teachers looking on. Recognize the signs and reach out to your child before it takes a toll.
Learn more about bullying and how to help your child develop a healthy self-esteem in the YOU: Your Child’s First Teacher book series, available on Amazon.