Facing a bully

HOUGHTON – Bullying has probably been an issue as long as there have been humans, but in the age of instant communication on Internet social networking, it has become something with a potential audience of thousands.

Dr. Michelle Morgan, medical director and psychiatrist at Copper Country Mental Health in Houghton, said for those facing online, or “cyber bullying,” the affects of the abuse can be continuous.

“The worst thing about it is that it can be 24 hours a day,” she said.

According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, it’s estimated half of all children are bullied at sometime while they’re in school, and about 10 percent are bullied on a regular basis. Also, 14 percent of children in grades six to 10 have been victims of cyber bullying within the previous two months.

Morgan said the textbook definition of bullying is, “repeated exposure of one person to physical or relational aggression, teasing, name calling, mockery, threats, taunting, harassment, social exclusion or rumors.”

Children who are being bullied regularly at school will typically react in several ways, Morgan said, including, refusing to go to school, faking or having an actual illness, depression, self-injury, suicide attempts and suicide.

For children facing bullying, Morgan said reacting with an emotional outburst against a bully is probably not a good idea.

“Typically, that will just urge (the bully) on,” she said. “It could actually escalate it.”

Morgan said she tells the children she treats for the effects of bullying some of the actions they can take include reacting by laughing, or simply ignoring the bullying.

However, Morgan said parents and school officials need to be involved with the situation, also.

“The other important piece of this is working with the adults,” she said. “The bully has to be held accountable.”

Many children who are bullies either have been or are currently being bullied or abused in some way, Morgan said. It’s important the alleged bully be involved with the process to stop the bullying.

“The bully needs to be talked to, also,” she said.

Children who are bullies often become bullies as adults, Morgan said. They also have a greater likelihood of being involved with the criminal justice system as teens and as adults. They often have problems with substance abuse.

Locally, Morgan said the rate of children facing bullying is about the same as it is in the rest of the country.

Morgan said child victims of bullying she treats are helped by knowing they aren’t alone and it’s not their fault. They’re also helped by knowing there are adults who understand the problem, and are helping to stop it.

She typically doesn’t work with schools on the bullying issue, however, Morgan said.

“Usually, we are working with parents who are dealing with schools,” she said.

Darlene Dahl, social worker at Calumet High School and Washington Middle School, said she treats bullying as behavioral problem.

“We have a system for dealing with bullies,” she said.

Once a student has been identified as a bully, Dahl said when talking with the student, she doesn’t use the word bully because that could make the student defensive and unwilling to cooperate. Instead, she talks about inappropriate behavior, and has the student write a “reflection piece” about his or her behavior.

The reflection piece has five questions: What did the student do?; Who was hurt by the behavior?; How did the student know the target was hurt?; What was the reason for the alleged behavior toward the target?; and What could the student have done differently?

After the student with the alleged behavioral problem has completed the reflection piece, Dahl said she talks with him or her.

“Then we look at options,” she said.

Dahl said the school district has a system for tracking students whom she talks to for behavioral problems, including bullying. There are progressively more serious consequences for those found to be bullying, including expulsion. However, a very serious incident which involved physical harm to a target of bullying could lead to immediate expulsion.

For the targets of bullying, Dahl said she also tells them it’s not their fault, and there’s nothing wrong with them. She tries to find ways to reduce the incidents of bullying such as traveling between classes with another student, for example.

Although she agrees an emotional outburst toward the bully isn’t a good idea, Dahl said she doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with the target calmly saying something.

“It’s perfectly fine to say, “Stop it,” she said. “Are there comebacks? Can you turn (the bullying) around?”

As for cyber bullying, Dahl said she has a succinct answer for a target.

“Do not respond,” she said.

Dahl said students who think they are being bullied should not keep their concerns to themselves.

“Make sure to tell an adult,” she said.

When a student comes to her claiming to be bullied, after talking to that student, she also talks to his or her parents. She also talks to the parents of the alleged bully.

The school policies on bullying are made known to students at the beginning of each school year, Dahl said.

“That’s definitely on the agenda,” she said.

Teachers in the district also occasionally have classroom discussions on bullying, Dahl said.

Although the rate of bullying varies each year, Dahl said she thinks it’s actually declining in the district.

“It’s a lot about building a positive climate,” she said.

Morgan said for victims of bullying, the effects can last a lifetime, and she works with adults who were bullied as children.

“Victims of bullies don’t outgrow the anxiety and depression,” she said.