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School Bullying Widespread

School Bullying Widespread

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Former AMA president Robert McAfee, MD, of Portland, Maine, has been the AMA point person on a decade-long anti-violence campaign. The campaign has targeted gun violence, domestic violence, and child abuse. McAfee tells WebMD that the new anti-bully policy fits nicely into the anti-violence campaign. "Bullying is a signal, a red flag. If we don't pay attention to that signal, it is likely that the bully will grow up to be the abusive adult," says McAfee.

Both McAfee and Davis say they want doctors to take on bullies by attacking the problem inside and outside the medical office. "We need to ask about this," says McAfee. He notes that physicians have had to "ask tough questions before. When the sexual revolution came along, we had to ask about sexual practices because we needed to deal with an explosion in the number of sexually transmitted disease cases. When drug use increased, we needed to ask patients about drugs. Now we have to ask about violence."

Davis says that if American doctors do what the AMA wants them to do, parents and children can expect doctors to begin screening for signs and symptoms of bullying, as well as for signs of other psychosocial trauma and distress in children and adolescents.

Meanwhile, the AMA has developed these tips for parents to help their children avoid being victimized by a bully:

  • Listen to your children. Get them to admit there is a problem.
  • Help them search for answers and express confidence that the problem can be solved. Don't expect them to work it out on their own.
  • Make it clear that it is not their fault.
  • If your child is harassed at school, encourage him or her to seek help from a teacher, principal, or other adult.
  • Intervene and show that bullying is not tolerated.
  • Get involved in their school and find out what programs are available to help prevent bullying.

The AMA also has a list of suggestions for parents to help their children from becoming bullies:

  • Look at your parenting practices. Model caring and empathetic relationships at home; model appropriate behavior, aggression control, and health temperament to your children.
  • Avoid use of physical punishment, harsh criticism, and violent emotional outbursts.
  • Note any disturbing behaviors such as frequent angry outbursts, fighting, and teasing of other children, cruelty to animals, fire setting, frequent behavior problems at school and in the neighborhood, lack of friends, and use of alcohol or drugs.
  • Seek help from a physician, school counselor, or qualified mental health professional when children display bullying or aggressive behaviors.

Finally, Davis says that zero tolerance for bullies has to be an across-the-board policy: bullies can't be tolerated at home, in school, or on the playing field, and children need assurance that when they seek help it won't make things worse.

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