for release Friday April 1, 2005
by Melodie Davis
The Bully and the Bully’s Victims Both Need Help
I was watching one of those personal extreme makeover shows. Frequently the person getting a makeover relates stories from their growing up years when they were made fun of because of how they looked. While I’m sure the producers look for those with the most dramatic and heart tugging stories, I know many people personally who struggled with that kind of bullying and teasing in elementary, middle or high school. So I know that bullying is very real, very painful and hard to forget in adulthood, even if people are more polite to your face.
I had decided to write about bullying this month even before the most recent and troubling school shooting in Red Lake, Minn. Whenever a tragedy like this occurs, within minutes I can count on getting e-mails and faxes from spokespeople and public relations firms wanting to promote their latest book, video, or author for dealing with bullying. I usually resist such “topic of the moment” come-ons; it seems too much like “using” someone’s tragedy or misery.
Unfortunately, it seems that such “fad topics” don’t really go away. The needs and issues like bullying continue. Ask any middleschooler.
A reader wrote recently asking for prayers for “a family with a 14-year-old-son who killed himself last week. He was the subject of bullying for a long time in school and just could not take it any more.”
This reader goes on, “I was teased horribly, too. We just moved my grandson, age nine, to another school because a boy at the old school had a gun (on the weekend) and was threatening to shoot him. By the way, the school did nothing.”
You can be teased for more one than thing of course; usually we think of those who are overweight, have acne, or poorly formed facial or other body features. Horn-rimmed glasses used to be a reason to tease—and that style is now popular. One of our daughters was teased to uncomfortable levels because she got better grades—or at least that is the only “reason” she could figure out. Books from lockers on the upper level were dropped on her; kids shoved her in the halls. Typical and terrible middle school stuff. She survived, but some kids with less resources for coping, and with fewer reasons to feel good about themselves, do not. Maybe kids teased her because they were jealous, or maybe she acted uppity. I don’t know, but I don’t think so. Teasing and bullying is a fact of school life and it has been for eons.
What’s new is that we hear more about these incidents, repeatedly, on 24-hour news shows, radio and the Internet. How can you determine when a school bully is just another kid with a chip on his shoulder and too much time on his hands, and someone who is so emotionally and mentally unbalanced that he might act on his issues? I say “he,” but of course bullying and violence is not limited to males.
Dr. David Pelcovitz, one author on parenting, adolescent development and child-related issues, is a professor of education and psychology at Yeshiva University, New York City. He points out several key warning signs, which experts find as a common thread in most of the school shootings. Here are a number of red flags or warning signs:
Why do these red flags often go unnoticed? At times they are not taken seriously because everyone thinks “it’s not going to happen here,” says Dr. Pelcovitz. We think we are overreacting, making too much of something.
Any one of the above problems by themselves are probably not enough to warrant alarm, but three or four of them together are definitely cause for alarm. For instance, a child drawing pictures of violence or writing about it is just one way to express themselves, and shouldn’t be cause for worry. But if they are also very prone to temper outbreaks, making threats, and getting in trouble at school or elsewhere for their angry behavior, then it is time to take action.
Whether you are the parent of a child who is bullied, or whether you worry that your child is showing signs of bullying others, both sides need help. Consult with your school officials, and document your concern on paper. They at least need to know. Perhaps another tragedy can be averted.
What do you think? Send your comments to: Melodie Davis, Another Way, Box 22, Harrisonburg VA 22802 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org (Please include your paper's name in your response.)
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.
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