Beyond Teasing: One-Third of Today's Kids Involved in Bullying
Caring for the Crisis continued...
"It is important for schools and parents to be alert to the
warning signs of bullying and to intervene as early as possible," Fassler
It's also important to understand the psychology of bullies.
Bullies usually have been victims themselves, says Leon Hoffman, MD, a child
psychoanalyst and co-director of The New York Psychoanalytic Society's
Parent-Child Center. "Or they have been put to shame by someone else --
either a teacher who humiliates him in class, or a parent who is trying to
discipline him. Shame is one of the worst feelings to experience. Effective
discipline is within the context of a loving relationship, not in the context
of trying to shame your kid into some kind of obedience. Shaming creates a
terribly vicious cycle. Kids feel compelled to take it out on somebody
In New York schools where Hoffman is a consultant, bullying and
teasing are not tolerated, he tells WebMD. "The rules are made very clear,
very explicit. Nobody makes fun of anybody, nobody calls anybody else names,
there's no sexual teasing. If it does occur, everything immediately stops and
it's dealt with in a group manner. 'Look what happened when you pushed
Dealing with the problem in a group setting -- with bystanders
around -- helps create empathy, and helps get rid of the good-guy, bad-guy
mindset. The lesson is absorbed as part of the group identity. "It's not
important who started it, who the instigator was," Hoffman says.
"What's important is that something happened, and that has to be
European schools have been most progressive in curbing
bullying, and studies report up to 50% reductions in reported bullying, say
Spivak and Prothrow-Stith. In these interventions, students are schooled in
social skills; counseling services have been set up for both bullies and those
being bullied. Clear rules and consequences of bullying are outlined, and
parents are expected to increase their supervision of children's behavior.
Such strategies are encouraging, more humane, and more
appropriate for kids than punitive measures used in U.S. schools today, they
say. "Currently a tendency exists to blame children for problem behaviors
rather than trying to understand what may be underlying their behavior,"
The Bully Pulpit
Fassler's advice to parents of kids being bullied:
- Create an open atmosphere at home. "Talk to your child about what's
going on. Create an open and honest environment in which your child trusts you,
in which he knows that if he is having a problem, he can come to you," says
- Figure out a game plan. If your child is being bullied, find out what he or
she has tried to stop the bullying, what's worked, what's not worked.
"Parents can help their child practice what they'll do or say next time
they run into the bully at school," Fassler tells WebMD. "Sometimes,
simply asking the bully to leave you alone is all it takes. If your child
practices being assertive at home, he will have more confidence."
- Encourage your child to be with friends when going to and from school,
while shopping. "Bullies tend to pick on kids who are isolated; they are
less likely pick on a child in a group," Fassler tells WebMD.
- If there's still trouble, get the school involved - go to the child's
teacher or counselor.
- Get kids involved in after-school activities. Provide good role models for
them at an early age. Establish peer mediation and anger management
- Look for signs that the problem may be serious. "Kids who are bullied
can get depressed, become reluctant to go to school," Fassler says. "If
you notice significant emotional and behavioral changes in your child, if his
grades are dropping, he has trouble sleeping, has lost his appetite, seems to
be anxious or withdrawn, you should get it checked out by your pediatrician or
family doctor. If there is a problem, ask for a referral to a mental health
professional who has experience with children."
- Ultimately, don't let the problem fester too long. "The longer the
bullying lasts, the greater risk of long-term consequences are," Fassler