Dr. Henry Paul, MD

Psychiatrist, Author and Educator


October 24th, 2013

According to an NBC News story, two female students, aged 12 and 14, are accused by Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd of “maliciously harassing”  12 year-old, Florida teen, Rebecca Sedwick with verbal and physical abuse and cyber-bullying her until she took her own life.  In the Nevada slaying bullying might have also played a role.

These are both sad stories, but even sadder is the fact that stories like this are becoming more and more common; forcing many of us to face the grim reality that bullying is a significant problem in this country.  There are two sides to bullying; those who are bullied and those who do the bullying.  Today I want to discuss what to do if you think your child is a bully.

The bully and the bullied are cousins under the skin.  Each deals with crippling insecurity and feelings of helplessness.  In the bully’s case, the child often sees bullying at home, and identifies with it and acts it out.  In the case of the bullied child, anxiety feels paralyzing and passivity and victim status develops.   While most likely no child entirely escapes some experience of bullying or being bullied, and the net effects don’t generally have a lasting debilitating effect, bullying can become a severe problem or be part of a larger problem.  What should you do if you suspect your child is a bully?

  1. Be sure you are not a bully yourself!  You must first be sure that you are not providing a model for his or her behavior.  This is always one of the most difficult parts of being a good parent: examining your own behavior for the example it may be providing your children.  Also, corporal punishment has no place in a healthy family.  It teaches the child one lesson: that you can get what you want through physical force.
  2. Be sure to check if the bullying behavior is part of an overall behavior problem, which might include violation of many different rules.   If your child can’t stop being a bully – if he or she compulsively or repetitively bullies other children – your child needs help, especially if he or she has a general conduct disorder.    You may want to start with the school’s guidance counselor, and/or then pursue a mental health-care professional.  The quicker bullying is dealt with the better.
  3. Empower your child by directing him or her toward activities that will increase his or her self-esteem.
  4. Be aware of what your kids are doing online.   Ask to “friend” or “follow” them online, or ask another parent to do so, if your child is resistant to you.  Know who they are talking to and what kind of technology they are using.

Remember, parents, school staff, and other adults in the community can help kids prevent bullying by talking about it, building a safe school environment, and creating a community-wide bullying prevention strategy.

Information contained in this blog is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended as medical or psychiatric advice for individual conditions or treatment and does not substitute for a medical or psychiatric examination. A psychiatrist must make a determination about any treatment or prescription. Dr. Paul does not assume any responsibility or risk for the use of any information contained within this blog.