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Puja Natesan, MD: Bullying Awareness

Back to school can be an exciting time for many students, especially with the challenges children faced last year with COVID-19. Unfortunately, a continuous problem is present in many places that can cause fear for some to return to school - bullying. Bullying is defined by the AAP as an “imbalance of power, where those who are weaker, smaller, shyer are made to feel helpless.” The CDC defines bullying as “unwanted aggressive behavior by youth or group of youths that involves power imbalance." It can start at any age and can cause a great deal of distress for the victims that can follow them their whole lives.

There are various types of bullying (CDC and AAP):

  1. Cyber: With technology, the newest form of bullying is through the internet. It can happen through social media sites, texting and can be the worst type of bullying since it can occur night or day with or without the victim present.
  2. Physical: Examples can include violence against weaker individual (kicking, tripping or hitting).
  3. Social/Relationship: Being isolated from groups or spreading rumors.
  4. Property Damage: To items the victim owns.

Per the CDC:

From this data, it tells us that 25% of all high school children reported being bullied. However, there might be a greater amount of those bullied that may not be reported. Out of the school age children who are reported being bullied, 1 out of 6 are being cyber bullied. 

What should you do if your child is bullied or is a bully?
Both AAP and CDC suggest having open conversations with children to help keep dialogue open. This helps kids feel comfortable talking to trusted adults about the situations they face. Asking open-ended questions allows your child to discuss things that are bothering them. If your child is the bully, it is important to understand why they are initiating this behavior. Early intervention not only helps prevent future behavior from your child, but also protects another child from unwanted aggression. At times, your child could be bullying others because they are bullied themselves, or they are asking for help. Understanding rather than punishing is best for early intervention.

Tips for parents that can help keep their children safe from bullying include:

  1. Communication: Talk to your children daily and keep communication lines open. Let them know who to turn to when they need to talk.
  2. Engaging: Keep active participation in your child education and relationships. Knowing who their friends are and their behavior in school is very important. Pay attention to any sudden changes in behavior that can help identify problems sooner.
  3. Social media: Concern over cyber bullying is incredibly stressful and difficult to control. Knowing what websites/social media pages your child is on is as important as teaching cyber safety.
  4. Primary Care Physician: If you feel your child is still having problems or will not open up to you, please turn to your child's primary care physician for help. Sometimes it is easier for a child to open up to an adult that is not their parent. Your child's physician is there to offer support and resources to help your child and your family.

It is important to identify and intervene early in bullying so that way there is no long-term damage to your child's well-being. This is important whether they are a victim or the bully. While we want to help prevent bullying, understanding why people bully can help stop the behavior. For the victims, finding a good support system early can help prevent prolonged trauma into adulthood.

Lastly, many adults also suffer from bullying, whether it be in the workplace or in social situations. We encourage these individuals to reach out and get help from their primary care physician as well. While your primary care physician cannot stop the bullying, they can give you the resources to help you find solutions for the behavior and help support your mental health.

Additional resources for bullying: