HIGHLY HEALTHY CHILD
Walt Larimore, M.D.
The Truth About Bullying
Debbie's mom brought her into my office because of changes in her sleep patterns, appetite, weight, and mood. After taking a complete medical history, physical exam, and appropriate laboratory work, I determined that twelve-year-old Debbie was depressed. Although depression is becoming more common in teens, there was no family history of depression, and I couldn't identify a cause. Rather than quickly writing a prescription, I spent a few minutes talking to Debbie alone. I asked questions and listened. Then I asked, "Debbie what's the hardest thing about going to school?"
Her eyes immediately misted up, and she looked down at her feet. I was quiet for a few moments as she wept. Gently, I touched her arm. "Debbie, you can tell me."
"You won't tell anyone, will you Dr. Walt?"
"Not without your permission."
Debbie shared a story of physical and mental abuse that was being heaped on her daily by a small group of girls at her school. Debbie was terrified. She feared for her life. No wonder she was depressed! She didn't need a prescription she needed protection.
Far too many children, like Debbie, are bullied. As a result they are agitated, frustrated, and desperate for a way out. As parents, we need to take bullying very seriously. My colleague Bob Smithouser clearly describes the serious nature of bullying: "Bullying is not horseplay. It's not impish sarcasm or an isolated fistfight. Bullying is deliberately hurtful behavior repeated over time against a victim unable to defend himself or herself. It can broadly characterized as either physical, verbal, or indirect (spreading rumors, intentional exclusion from social groups, etc). 1
Bullying can have a terrible impact. As many as 86 percent of children in the United States soy they've been bullied, and research shows that children consider the death of someone close to them to be the only experience worse than being bullied. 2 Dr. James Dobson recognizes bullying as "a huge, huge problem in our culture." Dr. Dobson shared one reason he fees so strongly about bullying:
Dr. Dobson was blessed to have a dad who was physically present and knew how to listen and guide his wounded son. The anger and despair of bullied children who don't have this kind of loving guidance can lead to incredible emotional, relational, and spiritual wounding that may overflow into self-destruction or cause a child to lash out. In June 2002, the American Medical Association reported, "Without intervention, bullying can lead to serious academic, social, emotional and legal problems." 4 A 1998 study revealed that 10 percent of students in the United States who drop out of school do so because of repeated bullying. 5 Even more shocking, it's been discovered that most teenage suicides and school shootings are committed by those who have been bullied or feel victimized or persecuted. 6
For two years in junior high I was really taking it. I remember one day when I was fourteen that was really terrible. I cried all the way home. As usual, my good dad was there, and he sat me down to talk about it. He talked me down from the precipice. That's really important for you to understand. If [a boy or girl] has parents who are involved, when they run into these things you can work your way through them and release the tensions. But many kids don't have that. There's nobody at home and nobody cares, or they care but are too exhausted to be involved. So the tensions grow. They get angrier, and there's a form of rage that develops inside.3
Many parents I talk to are surprised to learn that, as in Debbie's case, girls are bullying other girls. Some researchers believe that bullying by girls is more common than bullying by boys, and some even describe bullying among girls as an "epidemic." 7 Rather than using physical means, most girl bullies resort to relational or verbal bullying. They m ay isolate another girl from their social circle or gossip maliciously about her.
Experts disagree on what causes some children to respond to bullying by engaging in violence or by committing suicide. But there seems to be a link between these responses and violent music, movies and video games, which often buttress feelings of low self-esteem and even encourage self-destructive behavior. Many such forms of entertainment elevate if these forms of entertainment are igniting an already bitter fixationlike pouring gasoline on a smoldering fire.
If your child suffers from unexplained fatigue, fear, sleep disturbances, or vague physical ailments that crop up on school days, he or she may be struggling with someone who is a bully. These may be your only clues, because children who are bullied are usually fearful of reporting iteven to their parents.
1 "Bob Smithouser": Adapted from Smithouser, "What to Do When Bullying Hits Home,"3.
2 "bulling among girls" See Rachel Simmons', Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Agression in Girls (New York: Harvest Books, 2003), 3.
3 "Dr. James Dobson": James C. Dobson Ph.D., "Raising Boys, Expert Advice on Bullying," Focus on the Family daily broadcast, October 25, 2001.
4 "American Medical Association": American Medical Association, "AMA Calls on Physicians to Help Reduce Bullying," (June 19, 2002); can be viewed on the Web at http//www.jaredstory.com/ama_bullying.html.)
>5 "A 2998 Study": B. Weinhold and J. Weinhold, "Conflict Resolution: The Partnership Way in Schools," Counseling and Human Development 30 (1998): 7:1-12.
6 "most teenage suicides": Reported in Christine Morris, "Rejection Could Lead to Violence, Psychologist Say," Miami Herald, March 7, 2001, A7.
7 "bulling among girls" See Rachel Simmons', Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Agression in Girls (New York: Harvest Books, 2003), 3.
Face Bulling Head-on
Bob Smithouser, youth culture adviser at Focus on the Family, offers these tips for
parents whose children are being bullied:
- Assure your child that you are on his or her side and you won't take any action without discussing it first. But also make it clear that your intent is protect your child.
- Realize that your child is not to blame for being bullied, and refuse to believe any lied being told about him or her. The bully is the disturbed one.
- Chronicle tense encounters in writing. Without exaggerating, not what was said or done, where it took place, who witnessed it, and so on. Beyond being therapeutic, this is especially helpful if outside mediators need to enter the picture.
- Investigate the school's anti-bullying policy. Call and talk to the principal or other authoritynot to the bully or bully's parents. Knowing the amount of support one can expect on campuswhere to go for helpcan make a child feel less isolated.
- Help your child learn to rely on trusted peers for support. Peer can provide a crucial safety net for vulnerable young people.
"Bob Smithouser": Adapted from Smithouser, "What to Do When
Bullying Hits Home,"
Excerpted from HIGHLY HEALTHY CHILD © Copyright 2017 by Walt Larimore, M.D.. Reprinted with permission by Zondervan. All rights reserved.
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