• Kurt J. Kolka

A counselor’s advice for bully victims: Don't suffer in silence

GAYLORD — In her experiences helping others as a counselor at Catholic Human Services in Gaylord, Pam Morgridge has found often those struggling with alcohol and drug addiction will note having been bullied as a key factor in why they began experimenting with substances in the first place.

When it comes to bullying, Morgridge says both children and adults should “act immediately.”

The counselor has seen the impact bullying can have on lives.

Its effects on children and teens can be spotted early. Short-term effects of bullying can include depression, anxiety (especially related to activities with others), low self-esteem, trouble sleeping including nightmares, physical symptoms like headaches and stomachaches, bedwetting, drops in grade average and higher absentee levels from school.

Bullying, however, isn’t just a school issue.

Bullying can occur anywhere children or teens gather. It can happen at sporting events, club meetings, religious gatherings and in a family’s neighborhood.

The longer bullying is allowed to go on, the more drastic its effects become. Longer-term effects on the victim can include chronic depression (possible thoughts of suicide), post-traumatic stress disorder, agoraphobia (perceiving certain environments as dangerous), generalized anxiety disorder (excessive, uncontrollable and often irrational worry about everyday things), panic disorder, self-destructive behaviors such as cutting, anorexia, bulimia, obesity and higher risk for alcohol and drug abuse.

While bullying has always been an issue with children, the tactics used can change from generation to generation.

“It’s less likely the kid on the playground trying to get someone’s lunch money,” said Rance Charboneau, officer with the Gaylord City Police Department. “Today, bullying is much more covert. It tends to be not one kid bullying another. Often it like a group of girls bullying one girl.”

Rather than fighting, a lot of physical bullying today is likely to involve quick actions that aren’t likely to be caught by adults. Common types of physical bullying are hitting, kicking, pinching, spitting, tripping, pushing, taking or breaking someone’s things, and making mean or rude hand gestures.

Most of today’s bullying, however, tends to be verbal or social rather than physical.

Verbal bullying is very common and includes teasing, name-calling, inappropriate sexual comments, taunting or threatening to cause harm.

Social bullying involves using other people in the bullying. This would include leaving someone out on purpose, telling others not to be friends with someone, spreading rumors about someone and embarrassing someone in public. Often, people do not recognize these actions as a form of bullying.

Cyberbullying is part verbal and social, combining the word tactics used in verbal bullying with the humiliation aspect of social bullying.

Perhaps the most difficult issue with solving the bullying problem is the victims often don’t speak up. A study conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has concluded less than 40 percent of those being bullied will tell anyone.

“Kids don’t want to be targeted,” Morgridge said. “They may fear more bullying will occur as a result of telling someone. It’s also an issue of low self-esteem. Instead, victims tend to isolate themselves. They may also find it difficult to trust others enough to report it.”

Morgridge says because of the silence of victims, adults really need to be involved. Those who work with children should watch the interaction between them.

According to the U.S. government Web site, StopBullying.gov, children who are bullied often have certain risk factors. These include:

• Are perceived as different from their peers, such as being overweight or underweight, wearing glasses or different clothing, being new to a school or being unable to afford what kids consider “cool”

• Are perceived as weak or unable to defend themselves

• Are depressed, anxious or have low self-esteem

• Are less popular than others and have few friends

• Do not get along well with others, seen as annoying or provoking or antagonize others for attention

However, the Web site also reminds people even if a child has these risk factors, it doesn’t mean that they will be bullied. And even kids without these risk factors can be bullied.

“If you see bullying occurring, act immediately,” Morgridge tells parents. “Separate the children. Get the bully away from the victim.”

Adults should address the bullying behavior and tend to the victim. Let the victim know they are OK.

“The more the victim can talk, the better,” Morgridge said. “Counselors can help them develop some tools to deal with the situation.”

While counselors can be very helpful, just getting the victim to talk to adults about the problem has tremendous benefit. If the bullying happens in school, Morgridge encourages the parents and victim to talk with school counselors and work out a plan.

Morgridge says one of the best things parents, youth workers and school administrators can do is encourage the children and teens themselves to become involved. Children who step in and stand with the victim can usually defuse the situation. Then, report the incident to an adult.

“Again,” Morgridge said, ”act immediately.”

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