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School Bullying Widespread

School Bullying Widespread
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD

June 21, 2002 -- When Joe Riggs was growing up in a stretch of rural New Jersey outside Atlantic City, he was regularly taunted by a bully. Finally, the words stopped and the fists started. More that 50 years later, Joe says he remembers that day as if it were yesterday.

"I can still remember being punched and beaten. This boy was much bigger -- he was in eighth grade. Finally, I bloodied his nose and the beating stopped," says Joseph Riggs, MD, an obstetrician from Haddonfield, N.J..

Now a trustee at the American Medical Association, Riggs recalled this episode of childhood bullying on the day the AMA adopted a new anti-bully policy that concludes bullying is not just a matter of kids being kids, but rather a public health problem.

Riggs says that bullying can have long-term effects for both the bully and the victim. "In my case, I'm all right. But these things really stay with you and I remember it like it was yesterday," he says. But children who don't escape the bullying cycle are at risk for serious academic, social, emotional, and legal problems.

Another AMA trustee, Ron Davis, MD, of Detroit is a driving force behind the new policy. Before joining the AMA board, Davis represented the American College of Preventive Medicine at the AMA's annual meetings. A year ago he teamed up with representatives of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry to ask for the new report on the effects of bullying.

Davis tells WebMD that his own experience as a public health specialist and as a parent made him aware of the dangers of bullying. He and his wife, Nadine, have worked with their local schools to uncover the true extent of bullying.

He says that often, schools will initially "tell you that they don't have a bullying problem. But if a survey is done, you will find bullying exists in all schools." Davis says that the AMA's report indicates that 7-15% of school-aged children are bullies and one in 10 school children is a victim of bullying.

Sometimes the bullying involves physical violence -- like the incident recalled by Riggs -- but often it is "relational aggression. This was highlighted recently in a story in The New York Times Magazine about girls being mean to other girls," says Davis. Relational aggression usually involves tactics that lead to isolation or stigmatizing of other children. Typically the bullies, or "alpha girls," start rumors that cause another girl to be shunned by peers. "These rumors are often spread on the Internet or through chat rooms," he says, noting that technology has replaced classroom note passing.

According to Davis and Riggs, when authorities ignore bullies, the problem worsens. "Take shootings at Columbine. There was a pattern there involving victims of bullying or bullies themselves," says Davis.

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