Bullying, your child and you

This is a post by Amy Moeller. Amy is a therapist who has worked with children and adolescents for 25 years. She works in the Adolescent Health Department at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota and treats teenagers experiencing depression, anxiety, social struggles and chemical dependency. In addition, Amy co-founded The Family Enhancement Center in south Minneapolis 17 years ago. She works at the center part time with children and families who have been affected by physical abuse, sexual abuse and neglect. Amy is married and the mother of three children. 

“Being bullied is not just an unpleasant right of passage through childhood,” said Duane Alexander, M.D., former director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. “It’s a public health problem that merits attention. People who were bullied as children are more likely to suffer from depression and low self esteem, well into adulthood, and bullies themselves are more likely to engage in criminal behavior later in life.”

I recently attended the production of Mean, an original drama performed by the Youth Performance Company on bullying. The production was timely – it’s National Anti-Bullying Awareness Month. The performance gives us a view into the lives of students being bullied and introduces us to several forms of bullying including bullying at school and cyber bullying.

Cyber bullying can take on many forms. Sending mean messages or threats via text message. Spreading rumors online or through text messages. Posting hurtful or threatening messages on social media sites like Twitter or Facebook. Pretending to be someone else online to hurt another person. Taking unflattering pictures and sending them through cell phones or online. “Sexting” or circulating sexually suggestive messages about a person.

Who’s affected?

In Minnesota, we’ve had several instances of cyber bullying reported in the media. This behavior touches all schools and students from all backgrounds.

According to the I-SAFE Foundation:

  • More than half of adolescents and teens have been bullied online, and about the same number have engaged in cyber bullying.
  • More than 1 in 3 young people have experienced cyber threats online.
  • Over 25 percent of teens have been bullied repeatedly over through text messages or the Internet.
  • Well over half of those who’ve experienced bullying don’t tell their parents.
  • Bullying generally begins in elementary school, peaks in fifth through eighth grades and persists into high school, with very little variation between urban, suburban and rural areas.

The Cyberbullying Research Center reports that over 80 percent of teens use a cell phone regularly, making it the most popular form of technology and a common medium for cyber bullying.

About half of young people have experienced some form of cyber bullying and 10 to 20 percent experience it regularly. Girls are at least as likely to be cyber bullies or their victims. Boys are more likely to be threatened by cyber bullies than girls. Cyber bullying affects all races, and the victims are more likely to have low self-esteem or to consider suicide.

What is bullycide?

Tragically, the set of MEAN is peppered with names and pictures of youth who have committed suicide after being bullied. What an incredibly unsettling idea that we have a name for this. The definition of bullycide is suicide caused from the results of being bullied.

Children and teens who are bullied live in a constant state of fear and confusion. Many feel the only way to escape rumors, insults, verbal abuse and terror is to take their own lives.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people resulting in 4,400 deaths every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Bullying victims are between two and nine times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims. A staggering 160,000 kids stay home from school every day for fear of being bullied.

New bullying statistics in 2010 indicate there is a strong connection between bullying, being bullied and suicide, according to a new study from Yale School of Medicine. Suicide rates continue to increase among adolescents, and have grown more then 50 percent in the past 30 years.

What to do if you suspect your child is being bullied?

  • Get your child’s input. You need to be a confidant your child can turn to for help in dealing with bullying. Help your child see it’s not their fault.
  • Talk to school authorities. Often, bullying takes place in unsupervised areas such as bathrooms, the playground, or school buses. Make school personnel aware.
  • Teach your child to avoid the bully. Your child doesn’t need to fight back. Walk away and go find a teacher or other trusted adult.
  • Encourage your child to be assertive. Your child doesn’t need to fight back, but they can stand up straight and tell the bully to leave them alone.
  • Practice with your child. It’s beneficial to role play and practice what they are going to say to a bully.
  • Teach your child to move in groups. A good support system can be an effective deterrent against bullies. Have your child go to school and other places with trusted and true friends who can support them against bullies.

There are many activities on bullying this month in the Twin Cities. I recommend taking your child to MEAN and, while there, learn about the many resources in the Twin Cities aimed at keeping our children safe from the insidious evil that bullying is.

The YPC will perform Mean through Oct. 14 at the Howard Conn Fine Arts Center in Minneapolis. For more information, visit the website

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