Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Evolution of Bullying

Gregory Lawton, MD, Pediatrics, Sep 27, 2011 During the first recess on the first day in the first year of the first school (approximately 80,000 BC), an impressively hirsute Neanderthal pushed a smaller, more studious Neanderthal to the ground before depositing him into a trash container. The same thing happed on the second day, only before a larger crowd. And thus bullying began. In the year 2011, the basic characteristics of bullying remain the same. It's about one person or group acting in a manner that is intent on hurting, harming, or humiliating another person or group. It's about doing this on a regular basis. It's about doing this because one side is bigger or stronger than the other side. Might makes Right. So what's new? VOLUME. A single bully is a solo singer. There is one (really loud) singer and one speaker. Maybe the bully has a couple of sidekicks. Now it's a trio, but there is still only one speaker. Welcome to 2011. With the near ubiquity of social media (Facebook and Twitter) and smart phones that permit instant access, the number of speakers has multiplied. Throw in texting and the number of speakers multiplies again. Once upon a time, bullying might only take place on the bus, or at lunch, or after practice. Now, it can be a 24/7 event, whether in the car, at the mall, in the kitchen, or even while on a family vacation during the summer in another state. Cyber bullies can post a hateful message on Facebook or a vengeful text message anytime, anywhere. What's more, if it's done via a video upload to YouTube, the number of speakers increases exponentially. The volume can be devastating. This degree of now public (thanks to social media) humiliation can be realized in a number of horrific scenarios. Victims of bullying have taken revenge to heinous extremes at Columbine High School and Virginia Tech. According to the website Bullying Statistics, other victims, feeling isolated, resort to suicide. As pediatricians, we see bullies every day. They are our patients. The trouble is, they don't wear a sign announcing that they are bullies when they come in for a physical. Perhaps we are more observant of the victims of bullying. They are the kids with belly pain, headaches, slipping grades, or insidious school aversion. What can we do? What should we do? A recent article on Medscape,, offers a wealth of resources on programs to counter bullying. The trick, however, remains in recognizing it in our offices. What can we, as pediatricians do to prevent bullying? 1. Remain open to the idea that every child can be a bully, or a victim. Listening for clues when a patient indicates that he doesn't like school or doesn't "fit in" may indicate that could be a potential target. Ask about discipline issues at school. Are detentions for academic reasons or altercations? The answers could lead to insight that the patient may be more likely to bully others. 2. Caution parents about social media and the need to monitor its use in their home. Encourage them to know what is on their child's Facebook page. Look at the text posts periodically. Advise parents to keep computers and smart/cell phones out of the bedrooms at night so as to keep their child's room nominally safe from electronic intrusions, vicious or otherwise. 3. Consider speaking with parents separately before or after an appointment. Ask explicitly about school, it's social and academic aspects. Communicate that you are willing to work with the kids, their parents, and the schools as part of a coordinated anti-bullying effort. As with so many aspects of our professional lives, there are no easy answers, nor is there a one size fits all approach. We can make a difference however, as we always do, one patient at a time. By enforcing social media rules in our homes, we decrease the potential for cyber bullying in our personal lives. By listening a bit differently to our patients, we may unearth the real reason for school aversion. The Neanderthal will always be out there. But now he or she has evolved; Facebook and smart phones are the new weapons. Pediatricians can (and for the sake of our patients must) evolve faster.

1 comment:

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