Intelligence and Bullying

rsz_boy_with_arms_crossedAnyone who’s different than others is more likely than other kids to feel isolated. This is especially true in the early adolescent years of 11 to 14, when fitting in is more important than at any other time in a person’s life.

Being smart is enough to trigger rejection, envy, or aggression by classmates, although it doesn’t always bring the knowledge or wisdom to deal well with social problems like these. Rejection can take the form of bullying, whether with gestures, words (Nerd! Brainiac! Geek!), physical violence, or cyber-attacks, all of which can be hurtful or even traumatic.

The victim of cyberbullying can feel like there’s no safe haven, nowhere to turn to escape it. Cyberbullying includes (1) hacking—intruding into an e-mail account or website, and sending messages or pictures that cause harm to one or more people; (2) smearing—sullying a person’s reputation or discrediting them by spreading rumors on social networking sites, or creating hate groups, web-pages, or embarrassing profiles; and (3) damaging—sending out computer viruses that compromise a person’s computer, causing it to crash, transmit, or delete information.

Although cyberbullying doesn’t usually result in physical harm (except when it’s self-inflicted, which is sadly all too common), it is particularly frightening for a number of reasons. The bullies can hide behind pseudonyms, so they can be extremely difficult to find, communicate, or reason with. A cyber-attack can involve a large number of people in no time at all. Moreover, because the cruel result of a cyber-assault is not immediately discernible to the bullies, bullies can avoid seeing the damaging effects of their actions. The victim can feel like there’s no safe haven, nowhere to turn to get away from the humiliation. The bully remains sheltered while the hurtful action escalates, and the menacing continues.

There are two aspects of cyberbullying of particular relevance when thinking about smart kids. The first is that, although most young people who are talented at computer applications apply their skills constructively, others get involved in more destructive activities. The second concern—as with any kind of bullying—is that exceptional kids can be targets of abuse merely by virtue of being different. Smart kids can be victims of jealousy, envy, or ridicule, just because of their advanced abilities.

What Can Parents Do?

  1. Attune to your kids. Pay attention to what they’re doing so you’ll recognize red flags—changing habits, attitudes, activities, and emotions. When it comes to preventing or remedying bullying situations of all kinds (including cyberbullying), children do best if they feel that their parents care about them and are paying attention to their lives. Give them lots of love, encouragement, and affection.
  2. Model respect and empathy for others. The best bullying antidotes emphasize community, respect, empathy, and friendship-building. Families with a climate of mutual respect minimize the likelihood that kids will bully, whereas families where the parents are demanding, angry, directive, and unresponsive produce more than their share.
  3. Teach conflict resolution strategies. Conflicts and anger are a natural part of life, but children need to know that acting out destructively is not acceptable. Parents can help their kids understand and conquer difficult social experiences as they arise, and advocate for school-based conflict resolution programs.
  4. Provide support as needed. No child should have to deal with abuse single-handedly. Children need to know there are people who can and will assist them if they experience bullying of any kind—concerned adults who will intervene and make every effort to stop the cruelty, embarrassment, or abusive action.
  5. Encourage relationship-building experiences.  Some smart kids have a hard time making friends. You can look for opportunities for your child to work together with others on projects that interest him. Interest-based activities can be catalysts for relationships that help him acquire the social skills he needs to make friends and keep them.
  6. Talk about the complicity of bystanders. Kids need to learn that anyone who condones bullying behavior by laughing, contributing negative comments of their own, forwarding information, or just being silent, is complicit in the abuse. As with face-to-face bullying, cyber-bystanders are part of the problem unless they stand up for what’s right.
  7. Encourage and celebrate your child’s achievements. People who feel good about themselves and proud of their achievements are less likely to be victimized by bullies, or to participate in bullying activities.
  8. Increase school-wide and community awareness. Find out what’s available to support anti-bullying initiatives and increase awareness at the local level. Take a look at community services and policies. Think about using posters, webinars, online resources, and presentations and discussion forums with experts. When done well, school-wide and community anti-bullying campaigns can generate knowledge and send a message that bullying will not be tolerated, no matter what form it takes.
  9. Get professional help. If all of this doesn’t help, find a counselor with expertise working with kids with bullying issues.
  10. Look for other resources. There are lots of great resources out there:

Thirty blogs featuring advice on stopping bullying: http://www.fulltimenanny.com/blog/30-blogs-featuring-the-best-advice-on-stopping-bullying/

Ten psychology studies that shed light on the nature of bullying: http://oedb.org/library/beginning-online-learning/10-telling-psychology-studies-on-the-nature-of-bullying

Cyberbullying Research Center: www.cyberbullying.us/resources.php

Posts to Parents Space: http://www.parents-space.com/bullying/my-daughter-is-a-victim-of-cyberbullying-what-can-i-do/  http://www.parents-space.com/bullying/my-sons-a-bully-what-can-i-do/

And more about related topics: http://www.beyondintelligence.net

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