Kids Health Matters: Bullying

UNIVERSITY CITY -- Bullying used to be dismissed as a "rite of passage," that would "toughen" kids up for the hard knocks of adult life.

Today, we know it has negative, sometimes deadly, effects.

The National Academies of Science recently called bullying a "serious public health problem," hurting both victims, and bullies, often into adulthood.

Sam says, "I was kind of kind of sad because he was calling me stupid."

And Braydon adds, "I was a little like depressed after that. I didn't know what to do."

Psychologist Stephen Leff of Children's Hospital says bullying is about power - using force, coercion, or threats to exert power over others.

Leff says there are still traditional "bullying hot spots" - playgrounds, lunch rooms, and hallways - however, it's just as likely to happen through phone texts, email, and even video games.

"Parents may not even be aware that Xbox, for example, or other games that have chat features, can be a great way to play, but also be used as an opportunity to bully others," said Leff.

Parents used to be advised to control kids' passwords, monitor their email traffic, and put computers in the open at home.

Leff says, "And what the research shows is that it doesn't make too much of a difference. Kids for the most part, know technology better than we do as parents"

What does work is good communication between parents and children, being a good role model, and teaching respect, empathy, and restraint.

Regularly set aside 5 or 10 minutes to talk to kids about their days - the ups and downs, and learn about their friends and school. That open communication could be vital.

"With cyber-bullying, we know that kids don't often come to parents, and they don't often come to teachers," said Leff.

And if kids witness an incident, they shouldn't watch - support the victim and walk away - to a teacher or administrator.

It takes power back from the bully.