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Banishing Bullying Behavior

Joanne: What factors allow such a devastating event to occur?

SuEllen: Verbal bullying, including cyberbullying, is frequently dismissed as benign and inconsequential. Never assume that students can slough off verbal torment. The perennial saying, “Sticks and stones can break your bones, but words can never hurt you” is a lie. I’m trying to instill a new saying: “Sticks and stones can break your bones, but words can break your heart.” The scars of the soul take a lot longer to heal than the scars of the flesh.

Joanne: How devastating is cyberbullying?

SuEllen: Cyberbullying is treacherous and has taken bullying to a new level for a number of reasons. 1) Your home is no longer a sanctuary, a haven of safety from the abuse. Young people are bonded to their technology and the cyberbullying is ubiquitous. 2) The anonymity leaves the target helpless to defend themselves. Along with the anonymity is the limitless number of people who have received lies about you that you cannot refute. 3) You feel completely isolated and hopeless about having any support. 4) Students will say things via technology that they would not have the courage to say directly. A new word, “bullycied” — children who commit suicide because of bullying — has entered our vocabulary, and cyberbullying has been associated with many suicides.

Joanne: Are certain kids who become targets destined to remain targets?

SuEllen: Bullies shop around for the most vulnerable targets who give the greatest reward to their bulliers. Tears give them a tremendous sense of power. Physical indications of cowering empower bulliers. Strategies include everything from being assertive, telling an adult who will intervene, using humor, ignoring with spirit, distracting the bully, staying with a group, convincing yourself that you will not allow someone else to determine your status, even changing schools. Kids need to find a defense that fits their comfort level and keep trying until they find a solution. Kids say that bulliers are basically cowards, have problems at home, crave attention and have low self-esteem.

Joanne: What can parents do to keep their kids from being a target or a bully?

SuEllen: Model the behavior you want your children to have. If you are empathetic and kind, handle your anger appropriately, stand up for yourself skillfully and respect yourself and others, you will send a powerful message to your children. Martial arts can be very helpful because of the body language that kids develop. Helping your child find a skill or talent they can pursue can also lead to a group of new friends.

Joanne: How can parents spot when their child is being bullied?

SuEllen: The first indication is when a child doesn’t want to go to school. Other clues are physical complaints such as headaches and stomach aches. Changes in behavior such as becoming more withdrawn or more aggressive and eating disorders could be signs of distress.

Joanne: What is necessary for schools and communities to do to help over time?

SuEllen: We must create a community of compassion, caring and kindness. We need to counter the barrage of mean-spiritedness that is so pervasive — vulgar language, trash talking, violent messages on TV, movies, music, video games. There must be consequences for inappropriate behavior. If we start earlier and consistently try to reach problemed children, perhaps we won’t have to resort to litigating and criminalizing bullying behavior. My hope is that we will put more energy into prevention.

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Joanne Stern

Joanne Stern, PhD, is a psychotherapist with a private practice emphasizing counseling with families, parents, couples and teens. She’s a teacher, consultant, speaker, and expert guest on parenting and family topics, including communication, discipline, self-esteem, addictions, eating disorders, grief, and loss. Parenting Is a Contact Sport: 8 Ways to Stay Connected to Your Kids for Life is her first book. A mother and grandmother, she and her husband, Terry Hale, live in Aspen, Colorado.


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8:22AM PDT on Apr 25, 2014

Let’s End This Madness


8:22AM PDT on Apr 25, 2014

As a society, we admire and reward the success of focused directness. The question is: What happens when acceptable “assertiveness” is shoved over… into unacceptable “aggressiveness” and bullying? Where is this line drawn, and who actually draws that line between the two?

Our children, our family, friends, and every person breathing on this earth are important, are worthy, are loved and cherished for who they are. We are important, worthy, and cherished for who we are—and not what we do, what we look like, how much money we have, etc.

If children grew up with this knowledge embedded in their hearts, I believe that there would be less potential victims of bullying; teen suicides and/or attempted suicides would be reduced; and so many other positive effects will follow them through adulthood.

If adults had this knowledge embedded in their hearts, I believe that there would be less abuse, fewer suicides, and less domestic violence and killings.

If all of us believed this in our own hearts, we wouldn’t sit back and allow others to be threatened, bullied, or abused. We would have the courage to step in and do something… and not stand by and let things happen, because we’re afraid of getting involved.

We need to do is share this simple message—over and over again—until this knowledge is so deeply embedded in everyone we come in contact with that no words, actions, or persons can take that away from them.

2:46AM PST on Feb 3, 2012

Thanks for the helpful info.

8:16PM PST on Dec 2, 2010

Trust me! A school can be "excellent" under grade academics...but what about Bullied Children....does that make an "excellent school"? And when innocent parents who have cried out for 'help' because their child is severely bullied and that bullied child duplicates what is done to them towards them from school...the parent doesn't know about why the child is unruly and violent and those parents "cry out for help" for a ten yr. old child...Do you think it is protocol, correct and justifiable for innocent parents to be condemned as emotional abusers by the system? They didn't know what to do for the child...even the very school didn't want to hear a child's cry when he/she was being bullied...or do you think it's correct for child to not be heard about bullying and he/she be called a lier? by teachers and principals? And the parents are said to go overboard when they are trying to stop bullying?

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5:32PM PDT on Oct 6, 2010

bullying is ridiculous behavior.

6:10PM PDT on Oct 1, 2010

It's excellent that more and more anti-bullying programs are being founded and taking off. I was bullied terribly in school--to the point where I wanted to kill myself. Being on the autism spectrum didn't help; it was probably part of the reason why I got bullied. The only critique I have is that the bullying cannot focus on just general bullying. It has to address the factors that go into bullying. People fear what they don't understand--and if they don't understand someone, they target that person for bullying.

12:58AM PDT on Jul 6, 2010


7:02AM PDT on Jun 29, 2010

I was bullied in grade school, it sucked. But that was a long time ago. No one should have to put up with this, especially at school or work.

6:41PM PDT on Jun 25, 2010

Yes Bullying is vvvvvery BAD so.............We need to learn to respect ourselves Then we can respect others ?AND STOP BULLYING>ADULTS must REACT .....OTHERWISE IT WILL GET OUT OF HAND?

10:22AM PDT on Jun 19, 2010

Thank you for the article.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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