By Drs. Sally Robinson and Keith Bly

Bullying is not new in public and private schools. Arriving students have always suffered a temporary pariah status upon entering a different school. Big kids have long insulted, abused and in other ways lord it over the smallest students. The clique that runs the school uses various forms of verbal abuse to ridicule those who are different.

Recent studies, though - one in Maine and another by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services - found that there is a strong association between bullying or being bullied and four violence-related behaviors - carrying a weapon, carrying a weapon in school, frequent fighting and being injured in a fight.

We can understand why 70 percent of boys who bullied in and away from school tended to carry a weapon in school or away from school. But 70 percent of boys victimized by bullies did, too. The percentages for girls, though lower, confirmed the association. This would seem to indicate that allowing a child to be bullied may predispose him or her to violence. The child beater's child has no example of good parenthood to follow.

The Maine Project Against Bullying found that 80 percent of Maine adolescents reported being bullied in school. Ninety percent of fourth- through eighth-graders were victims. In Maine, 15 percent of students bully regularly or are bullied regularly. The worst is that students report that 71 percent of teachers and adults present ignored teasers and bullies.

According to the Maine reporter, children identified as bullies by age 8 are six times more likely than non-bullies to have been arrested by age 24, and five times more likely to have long criminal records by age 30. Aggressive behaviors become more resistant to change after the age of 8.

Here are some ideas for parents:

 

· Don't be surprised that your child is being bullied. Aggressive and sometimes violent behavior in schools occurs nationwide.

· Talk to your child about his daily experience at school and be suspicious but sensitive to "closed doors" and unwillingness or unhappiness to speak about school.

· A bullied child is in a struggle with an individual or group with more power than he or she has. Bullying is about power. So be sympathetic and understanding. Don't demand impossible heroic or stoic behavior.

· Your child has the right to attend school without fear of aggression or abuse.

· Find out if the practice takes place in spite of the efforts of teachers, administrators and other adults or with their tacit acceptance. Teachers may be terrorized, too.

· Speak with school administrators about the school's policies on bullying. What degree of tolerance for teasing and insults does the school accept? If the policies are positive, ask what you can do to help.

• If you are unhappy with the meeting, consult with members of your parents association to see if other children are reporting bullying and abuse. 

Face the problem with your child. Seek out other parents with bullied children who will work with you. This may lead to new friends for your children. Together with other parents seek the backing of the parents association to convince the school administration to remove bullies from buses, playgrounds and classrooms and improve conditions for learning at the school.

Dr. Sally Robinson is a professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston Children's Hospital. Dr. Keith Bly is a hospitalist and assistant professor of pediatrics at UTMB. This column is not intended to replace the advice of a physician.

The Your Health column is written by health and medical experts at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. The column focuses on topical health issues that we believe are of interest to your readers. It is e-mailed every Tuesday. If you have any questions about the column, or would like to suggest topics, please contact John Koloen, media relations specialist, at (409) 772-8790 or email jskoloen@utmb.edu.