Kids bullying other kids used to be seen as an innocent rite of passage. Research has shown, however, that bullying can have severe and sometimes tragic consequences. New technology, such as social networking internet sites, now can extend the reach of bullies form the confines of school and into the homes of all children with access to a computer.
SOME MYTHS ABOUT BULLING
Myth: While tough to take, bullying can motivate kids for the better. Fact: Bullying usually does the opposite. Research has shown, for example, that overweight children who are bullied about their weight engage in more sedentary behavior.
Myth: Bullies are kids that come from bad homes. Fact: Although parenting practices can be very important, many bullies come from homes that are not overtly “dysfunctional.”
Myth: Victims of bullying tend to be kids who already are marginalized by their peers. Fact: Girls especially tend to reserve some of their vicious attacks against those in their core group of friends.
WHAT THE VERMONT PRIMARY CARE COMMUNITY CAN DO
Since 2004, Vermont has had legislation that requires schools to have anti-bullying measures in place. Primary care clinicians can work effectively with children, parents, and educators to minimize bullying in their community.
Advice to Kids
- Remind children that “venting” online can often escalate minor disagreements
- Save threatening emails and posts in case they are needed as evidence
Advice to Parents
- ASK about bullying. Many kids are embarrassed to bring it up and it shows you are ready to hear about it
- Set limits about phone and internet use and be clear that your behavioral expectations extend into cyberspace
- Stop the passive bystander effect and discuss with children potential responses if the child witnesses others being bullied
- Help children feel less alone by sharing personal stories or connecting to media images like Harry Potter
- In helping children targeted by low level bullying, don’t underestimate the effect of simply talking about it, discussing potential responses in the future, and enjoying good times together
- In helping children with higher level bullying, engage the school and perhaps law enforcement to develop a plan to keep children safe
Advocacy to Schools
- Applying established bullying programs such as World of Difference, Olweus, etc.
- Not over relying on victim-bully apology sessions as a solution
- Increased supervision at school “hot spots” (the kids know where they are)
- Establishing clear consequences even for lower level bullying
- Call schools when your patients are being bullied and let them know you are monitoring the situation