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
firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll post select answers in
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
“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
“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
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