Child bullying seems to be pervasive in our society, which is why it’s important for parents to be informed about it. Dr. Susan Lipkins specializes in these kinds of issues involving children, tween, and teens. Her 25 years of experience as a psychologist has enabled her to work with many people, from bulliers, to those being bullied, to the parents of those being bullied. As Oprah’s bullying expert, she has appeared as a guest on many national news programs, has been featured in countless newspapers and magazines, is a distinguished author and creator of a website, a documentary, and a behavior modification system. Here she shares with ModernMom how we can be better parents when it comes to protecting our children from the harms of bullying.
This Thursday, March 10, President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, the Department of Education, and the Department of Health and Human Services will welcome students, parents, and teachers to the White House for a Conference on Bullying Prevention. Dr. Lipkins informs us on the conference and tells us, as parents, what we need to know!
ModernMom: We’re thankful that the White House is taking a stand against bullying. Can you tell us a bit about what will happen at the White House Conference on Bullying Prevention and why it’s important?
Dr. Susan Lipkins: President Obama does not want students to believe that being bullied is a rite of passage that everyone experiences. He has assembled several teams of people to find ways to counteract bullying in schools and in cyberspace. It is magnificent that the president and the First Lady have chosen to highlight this issue. Hopefully their leadership and commitment will help the nation to become a safer place that will eventually be "bully-free."
Tell us about the "Dignity for All Students Act." Will it be effective?
The Dignity for All Students Act requires schools to have a plan and a specialist in each school; a well trained person or team whose function is to prevent bullying and harassment of all students. Hopefully it will be effective. It is more specific than previous legislation and there is a task force that will continue to define the requirements of the act. Schools are responding and are taking this act quite seriously.
What is the "Caring Majority" program? How does it work?
The Caring Majority is a program that empowers bystanders to become "upstanders," students who will intervene and protect victims when they are being bullied. It begins in the top grade of an elementary school. Volunteers are called "ambassadors" and they are trained by the principal. The principal teaches them about bullying and the role of the bystander. Then teams are formed, one for each elementary grade. Each team creates a curriculum for their grade level, and throughout the year, the team enters the classrooms of the lower grades and teaches about bullying, about upstanders, and about the fact that the climate in the school is one in which people care about and respect one another. Similar programs can continue into middle and high school, such as one called "natural helpers."
Why is bullying so common in schools today? Is the problem getting worse, or are we just bringing more attention to it?
I believe that there are several reasons that bullying is so common. To begin with, there are many examples of "how to bully" on popular reality shows. Often the stars and hosts are themselves, bullies, demeaning and degrading contestants, etc. Adolescents imitate this behavior and often increase it by creating their own productions that they feature on YouTube and other social networking sites. In addition, we have the largest population of children since the baby boom. Simultaneously we have shrinking resources. The combination increases competition, which increases aggression. Bullying is a simple way to express aggression, and in many ways it is contagious. Those who have been victimized may become bullies when they are given the power or opportunity. I believe the problem is increasing in frequency and severity, and that this a world wide phenomenon.
What should I do if my child complains to me about bullying?
Investigate the situation, try to give your child support for telling you about it; since this "interview" is in itself, therapeutic. Then evaluate the seriousness of the incident and depending on the frequency and severity consider contacting the authorities, such as the school or camp. In addition, empower your child to protect himself. More information is available on my website at www.realpsychology.com.
My child is a bully. What do I do?
The bully needs help, just as a victim does. The bully needs to develop empathy for others and to recognize the consequences of being a bully. In addition, they often have leadership skills that can be used in positive ways. Redirecting the bully may involve help from outsiders, such as the school, law enforcement, a priest/rabbi, or a therapist.