For many youngsters, bullying is a nasty reality
In movies as diverse as A Christmas Story, Stand by Me and Back to the Future, Hollywood has treated bullying as a largely harmless - if not humorous - rite of passage.
In real life, bullying is anything but funny. "Children who are bullied may be afraid to go to school," stated a recent Mayo Clinic report. "They may complain of headaches or stomachaches and have trouble concentrating on schoolwork."
Bullies and their victims, the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests, are more likely to carry weapons and take part in fights that cause injuries.
Then there are the long-term effects. "Children who are bullied have higher rates of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and other mental-health conditions," the report said. "Children who are bullied are more likely to think about suicide, and some of these wounds may linger into adulthood."
Since April, according to news reports, at least three children in the United States have committed suicide after being bullied.
More than 30 percent of school children are bullied at some point, according to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, and that figure is likely to rise as more youngsters are given computers, cell phones and digital cameras - opening the door to "cyber-bullying." Cyber-bullying can take the form of harassing e-mail or instant messages, embarrassing digital images or intimidating websites or blogs.
Bullying has become so prevalent - with consequences so profound - that the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement urging pediatricians to include signs of bullying in their patient assessments. "This is just another step in ... helping pediatricians recognize the true risks that kids in the U.S. face growing up," said Dr. Robert Sege of Tufts University in Medford, Mass., lead author of the statement - published in the July issue of the journal Pediatrics.
The academy encourages pediatricians to give "appropriate and timely treatment or referral for violence-related problems" and maintain an "accurate database of community-based counseling and treatment resources." The statement, Sege said, recognizes that pediatricians "are moving more into the psychosocial arena by taking care of behavioral problems."
Many pediatricians will begin taking a closer look at how their youngest patients and their parents interact, predicts Dr. Terry Barber, president of the Ohio chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. "What manner of discipline do you use at home?" asked the Columbus physician, offering an example of the questions that parents are likely to hear at the doctor's office. "Have you ever talked to your child about conflict resolution?"
It's important, Barber said, to realize the three participants in bullying: the bully, the victim and the bystander.
Sara Rath is familiar with the dynamics of bullying: As a school resource officer in Westerville, she encounters the problem regularly. What does she tell students who are being picked on? "The best way to handle the situation," Rath said, "is to go find an adult and let them know there is a problem."
Her advice for a bystander: "You're standing there next to your friend, and your friend is getting picked on. By all means, say: 'Stop it! That's not right.' "