Bullying

School will be starting soon.  With it many annual traditions will start anew. Most are good. Here’s a bad one: bullying.  One study found approximately 160,000 lost school days due to bullying. Bullying has many forms: teasing and name calling, physical intimidation to outright assault, cyber bullying via social media. Boys bullyng tends to be more physical and directed at individuals outside of the group while among girls it tends to be of an emotional nature directed at unfavored members within the group. But that’s not universal–there is lots of overlap.

What not to do:

  1. Don’t force her into anything unless a real crime may have been committed ( assault, sexual violence). The child already feels a loss of control. That only exarcerbates it.
  2. Do not directly confront the bully yourself. You could be charged with crimes against a minor.
  3. It is most unlikely to be helpful to confront the bully’s parents. Besides being so unpleasant, you could find yourself accused of violations like harrassment or even physical assault, given how these things can degenerate into a physical exchange.
  4. Do not push your child into some physical confrontation. If your child is the initiator of the violence then he will face the consequences which can be significant–school discipline or even juvenile criminal charges. Moreover it’s not necessarily  true that the best way to get a bully to back down is to hit back. Too often, the bully is older, bigger, and stronger. You may well be pushing your kid into a situation where he would just get beat even harder.

Good things to do:

  1. Listen. Almost always helpful. Relating stories about bullying in your own past-witnessed or experienced-can be supportive and reassuring. A good way to initiate a conversation is to ask your child generally if they see any bullying in their school (sport team , etc ).
  2. Coach a verbal response. A practiced answer, delivered promptly and calmly (“never let them see you sweat”) can be disarming and helpful. I say always try and take the “high road” – a response like “we’re friends, we’ve known each other a long time, I know you don’t mean that” or” or “you’ve never been a mean person like that”-you get the idea. A sharp, witty, sarcastic, and insulting reply may be effective if the former is not.  But one must be very careful here–it could lead to physicality which is almost definitely not in your child’s best interest.
  3. Save any evidence-videos, texts, social media posts.
  4. With your child’s concurrence you may involve the school. I will add that in my 30 years as a pediatrician I’ve seen school districts’ and administrators’ responses run the gamut–from effective and supportive to apathetic and incompetent to downright destructive(eg, trying to “protect the school’s reputation” or shield a favored star athlete).  So one must be careful here.
  5. if there are concerns for your child’s physical, emotional, or mental health don’t hesitate to call me.

This is a large topic that we can return to again in the future.  Please send along questions or comments and, as always, thanks for following.

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