Bullying is a Universal Harm in Need of a Cure
Hansa Bhargava, MD, FAAP
November 21, 2016
A few days ago, middle school children in Royal Oak, Michigan chanted 'Build the wall' while having lunch.
In Atlanta, a school teacher who wears a head dress was left a note, 'to hang herself' with the head cloth.
Sadly, it seems that in the past week and even the year, there have been many of these types of incidents reported in schools, stores and other areas in communities. Episodes like these have a significant impact on children and can make them feel ostracized, scared and sad. As a pediatrician, I've had many concerned and frightened parents ask me what to tell their children. Do they say it's nothing and it will go away? Or do they say to their children, stand up for yourself? How do you dispel the fear that seems very real to these kids and families?
These incidents, simply put, are bullying. When a bullying or harassment incident happens, regardless of whether the reason is racial, sexual orientation, gender or just because the person looks or acts differently, the outcome is the same. Everyone feels bad, and all involved have an emotional effect. Victims of bullying or harassment feel anxious, scared and often depressed. Long term there is an effect on self-esteem but even more concerning is, the evidence to show that these kids do worse at school, in relationships and even getting jobs.
"If your child has seen or has felt discrimination based on race, religion, orientation or gender, have her talk to you about it."
And here's the catch: it's not just the kids victimized who feel bad and have long-lasting emotional scars. Bullies themselves often suffer from anxiety, depression and loneliness too. And bystanders can feel shame, helplessness and have similar anxiety and depression as well. These kinds of acts have an impact on every child: the victim, the bully and the bystander.
Last week, the
American Academy of Pediatrics, felt it was necessary to help parents navigate these type of incidents because of the evident rise reported in recent days. As Karen Remley, MD, MBA, MPH, FAAP, explained, "It is so important that all children feel safe and protected in their day-to-day lives." To this effect, here are some of the ways parents can help their children:
Information or misinformation? Talk to your kids about what they are hearing about in the media or at school. Clear up any misconceptions the child may have. Give truthful information that is geared to the child's age to help her understand. Watch age-appropriate media with your family and discuss what is happening as well as how it may make the child feel.
Deal with discrimination or bullying. If your child has seen or has felt discrimination based on race, religion, orientation or gender, have her talk to you about it. Listen and remind her that it is important to stand up for herself or others and ask for help from authorities such as teachers when needed.
Remind and reassure. Remind her of the beliefs and values your family subscribes to, and reassure her that you, the community and authorities are doing everything possible to keep her safe.
"Long term there is an effect on self-esteem but even more concerning is, the evidence to show that these kids do worse at school, in relationships and even getting jobs."
As a mom myself, I have spoken to my children many times about this topic, especially during and after the election. I discussed the issues, listened to how they felt and reiterated the golden rules around bullying and harassment: speak up and stand up for yourselves, but also for others. Don't be afraid to get help.
I had the pleasure of having lunch with my son and a few of his friends at his school yesterday. Someone asked him where he came from, and that started a discussion around roots. One child had a parent from Greece, another has a grandparent from South Africa and yet another had a grandparent from Ireland. It was a wonderful conversation and the kids were so excited to hear about each other.
And it occurred to me, that this is who we are, in this great country. Our forefathers envisioned an America with many different people coming together and thriving. And here, at this school, I witnessed almost a United Nations of children. Let's not ever forget who we are.
United we stand. For the health and wellbeing of our children.
Hansa Bhargava, MD, FAAP, a member of the Digital Media Alliance for the American Academy of Pediatrics, is a staff physician at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta and serves as pediatrics editor for WebMD.com.