The reports from school, the reactions of friends (or former friends), the aggression that is starting to be turned toward you — no matter how much you don’t want to admit it, the signs have become impossible to ignore.
Your child is a bully.
From the moment you first enrolled your child in school, you’ve been preparing yourself for a wide range of challenges, from academic struggles to lunchroom dramas to the aftermath of that first romantic entanglement. But bullying? That one wasn’t on the agenda.
It is now — and if you don’t take the right steps, this unfortunate turn of events could affect your child’s development.
What Is Bullying?
The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) describes bullying as "a form of abuse, harassment and violence" that meets the following three criteria:
- A power imbalance exists between the bully and the victim.
- The bully’s power is derived from physical size, strength, verbal skill, popularity, or gender.
- The bully’s target feels tormented, helpless, and defenseless.
Bullying can consist of physical violence, verbal abuse, or psychological torment, and can occur directly (hitting, shoving, threatening) and indirectly (excluding, shunning, or harassing via e-mail or online social networking). The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry has reported that as many as 50 percent of all young people are bullied at least once during their school years, with about one in 10 suffering from ongoing harassment and abuse.
How Harmful Is Bullying?
For parents of potential bullies, the obvious bad news is that bullying is an almost universally despised act that has the potential to inflict considerable damage on both victims and perpetrators.
As summer approaches, parents all over the country are wondering, “Is my child ready for summer camp?” Equally as important, as a parent of a camper with special needs, “Am I ready?”
For the millions of parents who are considering summer camp every year, this is a hard question to answer. There are many summer camp options out there, and each has something special to offer. But for children with special needs, the ideal camp environment is one that specializes in working with young people with learning disabilities, ADD and ADHD, Asperger’s syndrome, high-functioning autism, and related challenges.
Is My Child Ready for Camp?
Age does come into play when deciding whether your child is ready for camp. There’s no "right" age for going away to camp, according to the American Psychiatric Association. Some children are ready at age 5 or 6, while others show more interest and readiness a couple years later. The key is choosing the right camp for your child’s particular personality, interests, and needs.
Many camps serve children of various ages and maturity levels. Summer camps for children with ADHD, Asperger’s, learning disabilities, and related challenges understand that some 10- to 12-year-olds may need support as if they were a couple of years younger. Special needs camps also understand that a positive social experience over the summer can help children succeed throughout the school year. Small peer groups receiving guidance and positive reinforcement from caring and trained staff give campers with ADHD and related issues the support they need to achieve their goals and feel good about their accomplishments.
Middle school is a crucial time for a girl’s social development. It is also a time when a child’s lack of social development becomes more apparent. Elementary school children are more likely to tolerate a socially awkward child or overlook social delays in a peer (like continued interest in more childish activities). But in middle school, girls want to demonstrate how mature they are becoming, often through interactions with their peers.
Peer relationships are the place where many budding developmental issues get played out. Self-esteem issues may materialize as mean or rude comments about a child’s social awkwardness that was formerly tolerated by the peer group. Issues of power and control may get acted out by excluding children who were formerly included in social gatherings because those children are not moving forward developmentally as quickly as their peers. However these issues materialize, social and developmental challenges become more pronounced – and more problematic – in the middle school years.
Warning Signs of Poor Social Development
It is difficult to identify what “normal” middle school social behavior looks like because of the various levels of maturity among middle school students. Just because a student is less mature does not mean her behavior is abnormal or worrisome, provided she can find other children to befriend who are of the same maturity level.
However, there are warning signs that social development may be a bigger problem than mere slow maturation.