Banishing bullies

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

Riding the school bus doesn't seem to have changed much over the years - if you aren't the one riding it. The big, yellow buses still rumble down the street with the driver transporting children of all ages to and from school every day. But riding the bus isn't pleasant for everyone all the time.

"In unsupervised areas like the school bus, bullies have the opportunity to harass their victims without punishment," said Julie Erwin Rinaldi, vice president of consumer and network services at the Alcohol, Drug & Mental Health Board of Franklin County. "But surprisingly, most students are bullied at school compared to on the way to school. Approximately 40 to 75 percent of bullying occurs during breaks - in hallways, at recess, or in secluded places like the bathroom."

Bullying defined

Rinaldi pointed out recent statistics which indicate bullying occurs on school playgrounds every seven minutes, and once every 25 minutes

in class. A recent study shows 30 percent of students between sixth and tenth grades reported moderate or frequent involvement in bullying - being either the aggressor or the victim.

How is this prevalent act defined? The Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration defines bullying as 'aggressive behavior that is

intentional and that involves an imbalance of power.' "The three elements that must be present for bullying are an imbalance of power (i.e. age, size, social status), an intent to harm, and repeated-or threat of-further aggression," added Susan Steinman, D.S.W., director of divorce services at Nationwide Children's Hospital Behavioral Health Services. "Most bullying among children is not physical, but verbal and relational aggression; more subtle behavior that can easily fly under the radar of adults, such as name-calling, taunting, purposeful exclusion, spreading nasty gossip or rumors and cyber-bullying," she said.

Wide-ranging effects

Bullying does not involve just the aggressor and the target-it affects all children at school, explained Steinman. "Because bullying is most often an

exercise of social power, it occurs in front of an audience rather than in a private interaction. This has an effect on the children who observe the bullying of peers in the form of anxiety, moral confusion and guilt. It has serious and potentially long-term effects, not only for the children who are targeted, but for the child who bullies and the bystanders who watch the peer mistreatment. Eighty-five percent of bullying incidents are witnessed. It also affects the social, emotional and

academic climate of the school."

The effects can be long lasting, as well. Janet Heller, Ph.D., professor of English and women's studies at Western Michigan University and author of How the Moon Regained Her Shape was a victim of bullying as a child. One of the reasons she wrote her book was to give children the help with bullying which she never received.

Recognizing bullying In order to address bullying, adults need to recognize what it looks like, said Steinman, and to educate children about the difference between normal conflict and playful teasing vs. bullying-and call it out when you see it. "Bullying has been a secret world for children-they generally don't tell adults," Steinman said. "They think that adults won't know what to do, won't do anything, or don't care. Bringing the subject to light, letting children know it's wrong and that they will help it stop is important."

Some signs that might indicate your child is a victim of bullying are:

  • Not wanting to go to school.
  • Not wanting to walk to and from school or ride the bus.
  • Anxiety, depression, social withdrawal.
  • Unexplained cuts and bruises.
  • Aggression with siblings.
What you can do

The most important step is to maintain regular, open communication, said Steinman. "If a child comes up with 'this happened to so-and-so today,' ask the child how it felt to see that. Parents begin to define that it's not okay to do [bully]; that children need to be respectful and not hurtful to each other."

Heller suggests that parents also read How the Moon Regained Her Shape to or with their children and ask them whether they have had any similar experiences. If a child says "yes," parents need to ask for details about the bullying-how the child feels and what the child is doing about the harassment. If a child feels he or she is handling the situation well and is not upset, parents do not need to intervene. But if a child does not know how to discourage continued bullying and remains upset, parents should present different options. "If the school or other organization where the bullying occurs does not remedy the situation, parents may have to intervene more directly by talking with teachers, principals, coaches, scout leaders or the bully's parents," Heller said.

Bullying is a complex phenomenon that requires multi-level intervention, said Steinman. "Parents need to be sensitive when talking with their children about bullying [because] a child who is being bullied may feel ashamed, embarrassed or afraid they are deficient. When talking with a child who a parent thinks has been bullied, be empathic. Thank your child for telling you, listen to what happened and gradually get all the details. Don't criticize how the

child handled it, or advise what to do initially-tell your child you and she will think together and figure out how to stop it."

Marguerite Marsh is a freelance writer in Columbus. She writes about many topics, including families, relationships, artists and pets.


For additional information on bullying, try these books and Web sites recommended by our experts:


  • How the Moon Regained Her Shape, by Janet Heller
  • The Bully, the Bullied and the Bystander, by Barbara Colorosa
  • Queen Bees & Wannabes, by Rosalid Wiseman
  • Odd Girl Out, by Rachel Simmons

Web sites:

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