Words as Weapons: What Is Bullycide and How Concerned Should We Be?

There are over 100 suicides per day in the US, and one cause is contributing greatly.

distressed young woman

We’re seeing more and more news reports about kids killing themselves after being bullied. And the age at which this is happening is getting younger and younger. In fact, there’s even a term for suicidal practices following bullying—bullycide.

And although physical bullying—hitting, slapping and pushing—is definitely still prevalent, cyberbullying, or bullying that occurs online through tweets, status updates, messages and more, has become a huge and very serious issue as well.

“There are many different digital formats, like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, nowadays where everyone is able to express their emotions. Unfortunately, these emotions can spiral out of control to things like suicide,” says psychologist Christopher Rossilli, Psy.D, of Orange Park Medical Center in Jacksonville, Florida.

But, what are some of the signs to look out for? And how can you talk to your child about what they’re going through? Dr. Rossilli explains bullying warning signs parents can watch out for, plus ways parents can help or protect their kids.

Children have a hard time admitting they’re being bullied

Unfortunately, children have a tendency to keep bullying to themselves—40 percent of adults are told of bullying incidents, according to the 2012 US Department of Justice report. There are many reasons children keep bullying to themselves, but here a few of the most common:

  • They feel helpless
  • They want to address the issue on their own so they have some control again
  • They are afraid of being a tattletale  
  • They feel embarrassed that they were bullied
  • They might feel like no one will care that they were bullied—or understand what they’ve been through

Because many children won’t voluntarily communicate that they’re being bullied, you’ll want to watch out for signs and address the issues right away, by talking through what happened and discussing the issues with their school.

10 bullying signs to watch out for

Not all children who are being bullied show signs, but you should watch out for any physical or behavioral changes. Some of the signs of bullying include:

  • Destroyed belongings like clothing, books, electronics or jewelry
  • Injuries like cuts, scrapes or bruises
  • Routine headaches or stomach aches—and even faking ill
  • Changes in eating habits: binging or skipping meals
  • Changes in sleep habits; nightmares
  • Mood swings
  • Drop in grades or fear of school in general
  • Isolation or sudden loss of friends
  • Low self-esteem  
  • Self-destructive behaviors like running away from home, self-harm or discussing suicide

Not every child that’s bullied has suicidal thoughts or tendencies, but it is important to recognize the signs of bullying so you can step in before it escalates to something more serious.

Bullycide, the serious consequence of bullying

Bullying can have many consequences, with depression, anxiety, feelings of loneliness and bullycide being just some of them—and often times these effects can last into adulthood.

Bullycide, specifically, is when a child is bullied and sees no other way out except to take their own life.

Children and teens who have been bullied may be confused, fearful and want to escape the abuse they are experiencing, like physical or emotional bullying and pain or constant embarrassment. And cyberbullying is another very prominent issue.

“Kids are not built or equipped to deal with the stress that adults can, and because the information online, on sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, is coming at them so quickly, it can be a lot to take in.” This pressure and abuse can lead to serious health consequences if not addressed.

What you can do as a parent

While you can’t be with your child every second of every day, Rossilli says the best way to protect your child from bullying or bullycide is to simply talk to them. Learn about their friends, what’s going on at school and the types of activities they play. Knowing who they’re talking to and spending time with—whether that be online or in person—can help you figure out when something is wrong.

“Life becomes so busy and sometimes we don't know what our kids are doing and we don't know who they're chatting with.” The most important thing is to be present, he adds.  

When you talk to them about regular things, like their day at school, take note of how they look physically, but also how they seem to be doing emotionally. Ask yourself, “How is their self-esteem? “How are they feeling about themselves?” If they’re not feeling valuable, lovable or worthwhile as a child, they’re likely to associate themselves with other kids who feel the same way, which can put ideas in their heads, like suicide, says Rossilli.

Another way to prevent bullycide is to stop bullying in its tracks. Once you learn your child is being bullied, you’ll want to have them keep a journal of all the times they were bullied and assure them that it’s never OK to be bullied. For any bullying that’s happening at school, you’ll want to talk to their teachers or counselors about the incident so it can be handled at school. Most schools have an anti-bullying policy on their website or in the school handbook; this can help you figure out what steps to take. If you’re having trouble talking to the school administrators, contact the State Department of Education to report the issue.

If it’s cyberbullying your child is experiencing, assure them that responding back to the bully is not a good solution—doing so may only fuel the fire. Many times, children don’t report cyberbullying because they fear their computer and phone privileges will be revoked. Also reassure them that that won’t happen either.

Here are some other things you can do:

  • If your child or any other child is at risk, call the police
  • If the bully goes to the same school as your child, report it to a counselor, teacher or principal
  • Take screenshots and save texts of any bullying behavior
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that for children over 6, parents set specific limits on the time they spend using media and the types of media they’re allowed to use
  • Set up some online filters, and set the security levels to “high” so that you can monitor the sites they’re frequenting

Bullying is going to be hard on your child—and hard on you. The key to resolving bullying issues before they escalate: establish a good, communicative relationship with your child from the beginning, says Rossilli. Doing so will help your child feel comfortable enough to come to you when they are being bullied. He puts it this way: “How would you know if your child was feeling good today? Would they even tell you? If they’re not going to tell you how good they’re feeling, would they tell you how bad they’re feeling?”

When it comes to bullying, there are many resources for you and your child. Try these for support:

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