Perri Klass, MD: At Last, Facing Down Bullies (And Their Enablers) - New York TimesBack in the 1990s, I did a physical on a boy in fifth or sixth grade at a Boston public school. I asked him his favorite subject: definitely science; he had won a prize in a science fair, and was to go on and compete in a multischool fair.
The problem was, there were some kids at school who were picking on him every day about winning the science fair; he was getting teased and jostled and even, occasionally, beaten up. His mother shook her head and wondered aloud whether life would be easier if he just let the science fair thing drop.
Bullying elicits strong and highly personal reactions; I remember my own sense of outrage and identification. Here was a highly intelligent child, a lover of science, possibly a future (fill in your favorite genius), tormented by brutes. Here’s what I did for my patient: I advised his mother to call the teacher and complain, and I encouraged him to pursue his love of science.
And here are three things I now know I should have done: I didn’t tell the mother that bullying can be prevented, and that it’s up to the school. I didn’t call the principal or suggest that the mother do so. And I didn’t give even a moment’s thought to the bullies, and what their lifetime prognosis might be.
In recent years, pediatricians and researchers in this country have been giving bullies and their victims the attention they have long deserved — and have long received in Europe. We’ve gotten past the “kids will be kids” notion that bullying is a normal part of childhood or the prelude to a successful life strategy. Research has described long-term risks — not just to victims, who may be more likely than their peers to experience depression and suicidal thoughts, but to the bullies themselves, who are less likely to finish school or hold down a job.
I was bullied mercilessly as a child, and the people who *should* have done something about it--the teachers and administrators at school--despite repeated complaints by my parents, did jack-shit-nothing.
I think the good doctor's advice is well-intentioned but wrong.
One thing, and only one thing, stops bullying in its tracks: a sufficiently violent response by the victim.