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Go Ask Mom

Poe Center: Addressing 'pervasive' bullying problem

Posted October 28, 2015 8:30 p.m. EDT

The numbers should make anybody - especially those with kids in their care - stop and think.

One in four young people in North Carolina have been victims of bullying. About 30 percent of young people admit to bullying others, according to

"It's a pervasive problem," said Thomas Ray, senior director of educational programming at the Poe Center for Health Education. And it isn't just kids being kids.

Bullying is different than normal school yard tussles or disagreements, Ray said. Sure, the victim of bullying gets picked on. But it doesn't happen just once, he said. It turns into bullying when it involves an observed or perceived power imbalance - like the bully is bigger, stronger, more popular or with a group of friends. And it happens over and over.

I chatted with Ray at the Poe Center earlier this month. October is National Bullying Prevention Month. Poe offers several bullying prevention programs for both kids and adults.

Ray said bullying shouldn't be ignored for the sake of both the victims and the bullies. Kids who are bullied can suffer from depression, anxiety, health problems and decreased academic achievement, which can lead to life-long issues, he said. Bullies could have mental health issues or come from troubled homes, both issues that need to be addressed.

"We want all of our kids to be well," he said. "We want them to grow up into healthy, productive citizens. Bullying isn't part of an ideal future."

Bullies can hone in on their victims directly - pushing, shoving, name calling or physically blocking the other child's passage to their seat or the bathroom, for instance. But it extends beyond that face-to-face contact to include working among their peers to exclude a child, gossiping and, of course, cyberbullying.

Despite its prevalence, only about 20 percent to 30 percent of children who are bullied report the issue to an adult. Most bystanders, who have witnessed bullying, also say nothing. They often are worried about their own reputation, fear that they'll be bullied and believe that adults won't do anything about it, Ray said.

But adults need to pay attention.

"Even when good kids exhibit inappropriate behavior, their goodness as a kid isn't the issue," Ray said. "His behavior is the issue."

If it turns out a child is bullying others, parents need to take a look at their own home life, Ray said. Do the parents gossip or fight. Do the adults in the child's life have trouble dealing with their own anxieties or troubles? If not, Ray suggests children who are bullying others be checked for mental health issues.

"We as adults have to address the behavior," Ray said.

For parents of children who often are the targets of bullies, Ray said it's important to help them to be more assertive. Parents also should find other groups of kids where the child can have healthy engagements to build confidence and social skills.

"Being bullied is not a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up, but throws a long shadow over affected children's lives," according to a 2013 report for the Association for Psychological Science. "Victims, in particular chronic victims and bully-victims, are at increased risk for adverse health, financial and social outcomes in adulthood."

Said Ray: "We have to recognize that not addressing this now with our young people, they are growing into adults who make less, are sick more ... and cost society more in the future."

Ray shares some tips to help prevent or stop bullying. Parents should

  • Be aware of what bullying is. Poe's Bullying Uncovered program is designed for parents to learn more about bullying and how to prevent it.
  • Have regular conversations with their children about their family's values and what's right and wrong.
  • Model appropriate behavior.
  • Address bullying as soon as you see it or learn about it.

"Nine out of 10 kids don't like bullying, but they don't know the others are with them," Ray said. "There is power in numbers. We're going to speak out about this. We're going to stand up and address it."