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Lifestar 03-30-2004 08:52 PM

Bullying An epidemic amongst School-aged kids
KidsPoll: More Than 40% of Kids Admit to Bullying Others
March 17, 2004

We all know the old bully stereotype of the lone brutish boy beating up the weaker, smaller kid in the class in the name of lunch money. But a new KidsHealth® KidsPoll exploring bullying in school-age children reveals that the problem is extremely prevalent in both boys and girls: 86% of kids surveyed said they've seen someone else being bullied, 48% said they've been bullied, and 42% admitted to bullying other kids at least once in a while (15% of those admit to bullying every day).

The national KidsPoll surveyed more than 1,200 9- to 13-year-old boys and girls regarding their feelings about bullying and being bullied. The KidsPoll is a collaboration of the Nemours Foundation/KidsHealth, the Department of Health Education and Recreation at Southern Illinois University - Carbondale, the National Association of Health Education Centers (NAHEC), and participating health education centers throughout the United States.

Who's Being Bullied?
Although more than half of the students participating in the KidsPoll said they're never been bullied, it's still a problem for many: 33% said they're bullied once in a while and 15% said they're bullied at least weekly.

Bullies often target someone who is different than others and focus on that attribute. Wearing glasses, having big ears, or being in a wheelchair are all differences that can be fodder for a bully's ridicule. But a child doesn't have to be physically different from other children to be bullied. Being anxious, insecure, smarter, or slower than their peers can also make some kids the target of bullying. The bully realizes that these children are unlikely to retaliate.

Sometimes the effects of bullying aren't as obvious as a black eye. If you suspect your child is being bullied, keep an eye out for these signs:

sudden appearance of bruises
missing belongings
changing routines
the invention of mysterious illnesses or stomachaches to avoid going to school (14% of the children surveyed for the KidsPoll said being bullied can make them afraid to go to school)

And what are the children being bullied doing about it? Of the kids surveyed who said they've been bullied, a staggering 46% said they respond by "fighting back" (a solution that can often make the situation worse). According to the poll, boys were more likely to say they would "fight back" than girls (53% of boys vs. 38% of girls), while girls were more likely to say they would "talk to an adult" than boys (32% of girls vs. 19% of boys).

But the good news is that more than half of the students participating in the KidsPoll said they do something other than fight, such as:

talk to an adult (25%)
just walk away and do nothing (20%)
try to talk to the bully (9%)

Even if children haven't been the targets of bullying, many have seen it happen to others. So what do kids do when they see someone being bullied? The KidsPoll participants said they:

say or do something to try and stop it (41%)
tell someone who could help (23%)
join in (20%)
do nothing (16%)
According to the poll, older children were more likely to say they would "join in" or "watch and do nothing," while younger children were more likely to "say or do something to try to stop it" or "tell someone who could help."

Who's Doing the Bullying?
The KidsPoll asked participants if they were bullies themselves. Although most of the students (58%) said they never bullied others:

22% said they bullied others once in a while
15% said they bullied others every day
5% said they bullied others every week
The most common reasons for bullying are "to be popular" and "to get your way or push others around," according to the students who participated in the KidsPoll. But there are many reasons why a child may become a bully.

Bullies may turn to abusive behavior as a way of dealing with a difficult situation at home, such as a divorce. Some bullies have been victims of abuse themselves, either at home or as younger children. And just like their victims, bullies often have low self-esteem.

"Some kids learn to bully because they have been subjected to mean, unfair treatment themselves - by others or by their families. That's sad, but it's no excuse," says D'Arcy Lyness, a child psychologist. "Everyone can choose to act in new and better ways. It's never too late."

Whatever the cause, bullies usually pick on others as a way of dealing with their own problems. Sometimes they pick on kids because they need a victim, someone who is weaker, to feel more important, powerful, or in control. They're often bigger or stronger than their victims and may use bullying as an attempt to achieve popularity and friends.

What Can Be Done to Stop Bullying?
Children who are intimidated, threatened, or harmed by bullies often experience low self-esteem and depression, whereas those doing the bullying may go on to engage in more serious antisocial behaviors as adolescents and adults.

Bullying certainly isn't a new problem, but it's garnering more and more attention these days. On March 1, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services launched the "Take a Stand. Lend a Hand. Stop Bullying Now!" campaign to educate Americans about how to prevent bullying and youth violence.

According to Dr. Lyness, there are two keys to solving bullying: making sure that kids tell adults when bullying is happening to them, a friend, or a classmate; and making sure that adults take action to prevent bullying and discipline kids who are bullies.

But what do kids think is the best way to stop bullying? Of the students surveyed, 35% said "tell a teacher or parent." Less frequent responses were "discipline kids who bully" (16%), "have teachers or other adults watch over kids" (11%), and "teach lessons at school" (8%).

Acknowledging that bullying is "uncool" can also go a long way in curbing bullying. "Kids can support each other by letting a bully know that treating others this way isn't cool or popular," says Dr. Lyness. The KidsPoll reveals that 64% of kids surveyed said bullying is "very uncool." Even of the 15% who admitted to bullying every day, 50% said it's "very uncool." Older children were more likely to say that bullying is "cool."

Whether your child is being bullied or is the bully, there are practical steps you can take to stop the abuse. To find out what you can do to help, read Bullying and Your Child.

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: March 2004


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