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Battling Bullies?

Turn to School Counselors & Other Professionals For Help
by Victoria Clayton, MSNBC.com, April 6, 2004

What's the best way to handle a bully? Columnist Victoria Clayton answers your queries. Have a question about children's health and well-being? Send it to us at childrenshealth@feedback.msnbc.com. We’ll post select answers in future columns.

Question: I have a sweet and sensitive 11-year-old boy who has been the target of bullying. We live in a small rural town with a school district that is short on resources. For three years I took him out of this school district and sent him to another school in a nearby town. The bullying did not occur at that school. But last year at the end of the school year my son asked to go back to the school in our town so that he could be with his friends. The first few months of the year went OK, but now the bullying cycle has begun again.

He is increasingly more miserable and has started to get into trouble in school. I know first-hand the damage that bullying can do to a child's self-esteem. I think it is incredibly destructive. This school district does not do a good job of controlling this behavior. I plan to have a talk with the school principal and the guidance counselor. In the meantime, I am hoping that you can refer me to a good program about bullying for schools. This district certainly needs one and I am willing to introduce the school to the idea.

Answer: Bullying, which can include physical violence, threats, taunting or even spreading rumors, has gotten a lot of attention in the past few years with so many accounts of bullied kids retaliating and demonstrating shocking violence at school. Tragically, however, it continues to be a problem that many schools are not addressing adequately, according to Dr. Howard Spivak, director of the Center for Children at Tufts University.

“We accept more violent behavior in this country than any other country would allow,” says Spivak.

In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, almost one-third of kids in sixth through tenth grades across the United States admitted on an anonymous questionnaire that they’d been involved in bullying issues, either as the victim or as the bully.

“Incredibly destructive” is a good way to describe bullying’s impact. “We know that kids who are bullied have higher rates of depression, lower self-esteem and they’re more likely to miss school,” explains Susan Limber, associate director of the Institute on Family and Neighborhood Life at Clemson University. Most serious, they report more suicidal thoughts.

A good place to go for help is the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ new Web site: www.stopbullyingnow.hrsa.gov. There you’ll find information on bullying, as well as recommendations for comprehensive, research-supported programs to introduce to your school.

Parents should never try to deal with their children's bullies on their own, experts say. Think back to that episode of "The Brady Bunch" where Mr. Brady confronts a bully who's giving one of his kids a hard time. He returned home to show Mrs. Brady a big fat shiner.

Strategies such as confronting the bully or his or her parents will likely exacerbate the problem. "It's important to try to create a positive process around it in terms of helping the kid who is getting bullied feel better but also dealing with trying to understand what's going on with the kid or kids who are doing the bullying," says Spivak.

In short, both parties need help. And the happiest results come when they get it from counselors, therapists or other school officials who have been trained in handling this serious issue.

What about just removing your child from the school? "Taking your child out of the situation is reasonable as a last resort, but I'd strongly advise only doing it with the advice of a therapist or someone who can help do it in a way where your child doesn't feel like a failure," Spivak says.

One last thought: if you don’t get results by going to the principal and guidance counselors, try your school board and PTA. You may also appeal to your pediatrician to advocate on your behalf with the school. Your effort may not only save your child but also every child who comes after him or her.

Brielle McClain, a 12-year-old student at Millikan Middle School in Sherman Oaks, Calif., who is a student advisor to the Health and Human Services campaign puts it well: “The worst is when a parent or teacher tells the kid to suck it up or that this will make him stronger or whatever. It doesn’t. Parents and schools have to take action.”

© 2004 Bridges4Kids ~ Designed & Developed by Jackie D. Igafo-Te'o ~ Page last updated: 08/21/2018