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School Bullying Widespread

School Bullying Widespread
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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.

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:

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