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The bullying epidemic

By Alice Bradley

The New York Times this week profiled Billy Wolfe, a high school sophomore who has been the target of emotional and physical abuse at the hands of his classmates. Three years ago, for whatever mysterious, cruel reason, the school bullies determined that he was unacceptable. Since then he has been beaten and terrorized, again and again.

The parents have documented the assaults, kept careful records, and complained repeatedly to school officials, but still they continue. After Billy was beaten in shop class, a school official refused to call the police, because “it looked like Billy got what he deserved.” In an MP3 that goes along with this story, Billy recounts another time he was beaten and threatened and the assistant principal told Billy’s mother there was nothing he could do. This sort of thing, the assistant principal explained, happens “all the time.” “I guess death threats are normal,” Billy says quietly.

Sadly, Billy Wolfe is hardly alone. There’s an epidemic of bullying, and it’s only getting worse. It’s estimated that 160,000 children in the United States miss school each day as a result of being bullied. Parents who dismiss bullying as part of childhood are playing a dangerous game. Children who are bullied suffer long-term physical and emotional damage; they’re at risk for suicide as well as violent acts. (The perpetrator of the Virgina Tech massacre was a bullying victim, as were many other school shooters.) Adding to the emotional and physical abuse that can occur in real life, there’s now cyberbullying. (Even adults—hello, fellow bloggers!—are all too aware of how much easier it is to be cruel when you’re not face-to-face with your victim.) According to author and psychologist Dr. Michele Borba, bullying these days is “far more intense, far more relentless and occurs at younger ages,” than before.

The bullies, meanwhile, need help just as much as the bullied. It’s easy to demonize them, but we should all realize that 1) they’re troubled, and 2) they may just be our kids. A recent study showed that most children bully others at some point. Over a third of kids surveyed said they bullied at a moderate level throughout school. And bullies suffer from their misdeeds: just like their victims, they have an increased risk of depression and suicide; in addition, they are more likely to be convicted of crimes in adulthood.

The problem of bullying doesn’t end with graduation, either: a recent survey showed that 37% of American workers reported being bullied on the job. These adult bullies’ assaults may be more subtle, but being terrorized emotionally can wreak even more long-term havoc than being punched. Workplace bullying has been found to be more emotionally damaging than sexual harassment, possibly because sexual-harassment victims have more recourse. Verbal and psychological abuse can cause workers to spiral into depression and even leave their jobs. Some states are pursuing anti-bullying legislation to protect workers, but just as in schools, a bullying environment is often seen as part of the workplace culture. It’s how things are, and if you can’t take the heat, you know where to go.

It’s this acceptance of bullying that leads to its pervasiveness. The bullying expert Dr. Warren Blumenfeld observes in one article that “the culture has to see bullying as a problem of society, not just a youthful problem that will go away…We need to look at systemic reasons why people are perpetrating violence.” The increasing problem of workplace bullying shows how true this is. Bullying doesn’t go away: it changes. And no matter when it occurs, it can have a devastating effect on all parties.

It’s clear that bullying has to be addressed early and aggressively; there are several anti-bullying campaigns and programs being used in schools, but no real studies yet on their effectiveness. Meanwhile, what can the parents of bullied children do? In Billy’s case, The parents are pursuing what they believe is their only recourse: suing the bullies. In addition, they’re considering suing the district. To my mind, the school should have been the sole focus of their lawsuit: under Title IX, schools are legally obligated to create a non-hostile environment for all children. It’s obvious from the response of Billy’s school administration that they failed utterly in that task. And in doing so, they’ve harmed both the bullied and the bullies.

As always, please share your thoughts and personal experiences.

Published March 28, 2008. Last updated April 24, 2017.
Alice Bradley
About the Author

Alice Bradley

Alice Bradley was a regular contributor to Alpha Mom, writing about current events as they related to parenting. You can read about her daily life at her personal blog, Finslippy.


Alice Bradley was a regular contributor to Alpha Mom, writing about current events as they related to parenting. You can read about her daily life at her personal blog, Finslippy.

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  • suburbancorrespondent

    March 28, 2008 at 6:49 pm

    There is a difference between workplace bullying and school bullying – a schoolkid often has nowhere else to go. And school is pretty much his whole life, and his self image is not well enough formed to withstand the negative messages bullying sends.
    Whether or not Billy’s parents win their lawsuit, Billy has spent 5 formative years being bullied – it is beyond me why they have not pulled him out of that damaging environment. The article did not explain it very well either.
    Bullying programs in school are a joke. They tend to address the victim as much as the perpetrators, as if it is somehow the victim’s fault that he is being picked on. It is true that we need to go beyond punishing the bullies who are suffering from emotional trauma at home, say; on the other hand, for many children, bullying is just a fun power thing and they do it because they can. Many of these programs forget that punishment can, in most cases, be a very effective behavior modification tool.

  • Sonja

    March 28, 2008 at 8:38 pm

    I was bullied in school. Never beaten or anything, but school was not a good time for me. It’s one of the main reasons that I will be home-schooling my kids. This is such a loaded topic. All I can say is that I’ve read a few books by John Holt (“Teach Your Own” stands out) that re-affirm my belief that putting 20-30 kids in a room with 1 teacher and then leaving the kids practically unsupervised for a large portions of the day (lunch, between classes, etc) is pretty much like letting the inmates run the asylum. Not good for anyone. Very few kids thrive in these situations. I only know of one person who actually enjoyed high school and considered it one of the best times of her life, and believe me, she was a completely dysfunctional adult. Everyone else I know, when asked about school says, “Thank god I don’t ever have to do THAT again!” The irony, of course, is that practically all of them have every intention of feeding their kids to the lions!

  • Kathy

    March 28, 2008 at 11:06 pm

    Bullying is one of the harsh realities of life. I think there needs to be more education in schools about the effects of being bullied and how to handle it. I plan to have many discussions with my kids about this. Mean people suck.

  • Angela

    March 28, 2008 at 11:38 pm

    My son started 1st grade at a new school this year and he was beat up almost every day for 3 weeks. The teacher thought he was being singled out for being different – he is currently in the process of being tested as gifted. Even though I thought maybe the teacher was sympathtic it turned out she really wasn’t. She was mad at him for causing trouble – by inciting the anger of the other children with his sophisticated vocabulary. One day we found out he had been kicked in the chest and knocked to the ground, head beaten repeatedly against the pavement, in front of everyone but an adult right on the playground at recess. When all the kids came back to the classroom he was crying and the teacher was told by the other 3 children that my son started it. Instead of sending him to the nurse she sent them all to the office and then she never told us. We found out from her the following Monday only because I confronted her. We found out from him around 9 o’clock that night when he complained of a headache. He was almost immediately after that promoted to 2nd grade and the beatings stopped. We don’t really know why. In the midst of all this our son was in the office almost everyday for misbehaving and they tried to blame us. They didn’t believe that he’d never had this problem before and tried to tell us his bad behavior was the cause of the bullying instead of the other way around. We just got lucky that he got into a better situation and we have our happy son back. My husband and I still can’t believe that 6 year olds could be so vicious.

  • Kari

    March 29, 2008 at 12:09 am

    I am a high school math teacher, and I try to be very conscious of status issues in my classes, but I only see these kids one hour a day. And having been a bullying victim myself, I try to be extra sensitive.
    At the end of my first year teaching in a suburban Northwest high school (I had just changed from a semi-rural high school), in the last month of school, I had three girls, sophomores, ask to speak to me after class. As soon as the room cleared, they hugged their books to their chests and practically shrieked, “Tim’s being bullied!” Apparently, the freshman boy that sat near them had confessed to being bullied by someone. All. Year. Long. This other boy had knocked his books off his desk repeatedly, escalated to sitting his chair down on Tim’s foot, to shutting Tim’s hand in doors. Tim was (is!) a super-smart, slightly socially-awkward, but really well-meaning kid, and almost someone you’d typically look out for as a bullying victim, but no one had caught it all year long.
    I immediately went to our head of security, and they automatically started the paperwork and restraining orders to keep Tim and this boy–and all of this boy’s friends–separated.
    Tim didn’t say anything that spring, but I saw him again next fall. He happened to be waiting for another teacher as I passed by. He just said, “Hey, I know you helped with that thing last year… and… um. Thanks.” He had tears in his eyes.
    It still brings tears to my eyes. I try to keep my eye out for this kind of thing and missed it. Imagine if he hadn’t told anyone–or those he told hadn’t told anyone–or those they told hadn’t done anything…

  • Kristen

    March 28, 2008 at 10:29 pm

    I’m sure I’m not the youngest person who will post an experience on here, but I figure, since you asked so nicely for me to share, then I will.
    Looking back, middle school was the worse part for me. I first off went from a private school to a public school in the middle of 7th grade. That was a huge slap in the face. I was a sheltered 12 year old at my private school and went right into the harsh world of public school.
    With that in mind, I was made fun of every day for a number of reasons: 1) being the new kid 2) I had curly hair 3) I was over weight 4) I had braces.
    As you can tell I got made fun of for how I looked. Really, can one say “made fun”? It makes it seem like it’s not a big deal at all. And, yeah, it is. The honest truth was that I was harassed every day, I was made to feel insecure and hate everything about me from a bunch of bullies.
    It happened fast and it happened quickly. I would try to stand up for myself and it would result in a physical fight and I would be taken to the office and get “in trouble”. And because of it all, I tried to change the way I looked and the way I acted. I straightened my hair daily, I started dieting (I was 12!), I wish I could have hidden the fact that I had braces, and there was nothing I could do to change the fact that I was a new kid.
    Even though I did all of this, I was still harassed daily.
    I’m 22 years old now. To this day I have major issues with my looks and suffer from an eating disorder.
    But, really, the tough fact is that even though there are so many programs in schools now that try to stop bullying (I can remember one named something like B.U.L.L.Y from when my sister was in school and the school I worked at had the saying, “Everybody is your friend.” I’m not the expert on the program, just mentioning that there are some), it’s not stopping. If anything bullying is on the rise from what I’m reading.
    Schools really don’t care. With so many other issues that teeter on funding, bullying and the psychological well-being of kids don’t matter.
    This seems to a major issue that needs addressing now, just gotta figure something out.
    So, I’ve shared my experience, now I’m just curious as to what ideas people come up with.

  • ozma

    March 29, 2008 at 3:29 am

    Wow Angela, what a horrible story! That’s so disturbing.
    I guess I did not fear physical abuse of my child but more psychological abuse, as she is a girl. However, I definitely got beat on by other children, as did most other students in my school. As I recall, we thought it was normal. When I look back, I cannot believe the savagery of grade school. And yes, there wasn’t much interest on the teachers’ part. The teachers seemed like these distant aloof figures and we were in our mad jungle, trying to survive. It felt like they had so little to do with what we were struggling with.

  • kim

    March 29, 2008 at 9:55 am

    Bullying is dreadful. Dreadful. I’ll say it again. DREADFUL.
    Of the zillions of “helpful” books out there, are there any books that are actually useful on the topics of
    1- Teaching your kid how not to be bullied, and
    2- Teaching your kid how not to BE a bully?
    Mine are 3 & 5, but I’d read books addressed to any age of childhood, really.

  • Chris

    March 29, 2008 at 10:52 am

    Sonja (the first comment) mentioned John Holt’s book “Teach Your Own”.
    My wife and I read that book. And what do we think about bullying? Well, it’s something that my two children will never ever know. Poof, the entire concept of schoolyard (and class room and cyber) bullying vanished into thin air.
    I find it comical when people suggest that the school experience is part of normal socialization and an essential, necessary part of growing up. Uh, depression (which would manifest itself in about 10 million horrible different ways) and SUICIDE! brought on by bullying are things I want to be foreign to my kids.

  • Elleff

    March 29, 2008 at 2:26 pm

    I’ve just started reading “Hold On To Your Kids” by Neufeld and Gabor, and I highly recommend it. The authors discuss our current culture of “peer orientation” and how kids need to be attached to their parents rather than other kids. Bullying and child suicide are among the problems they attribute to peer orientation.

  • miep

    March 29, 2008 at 5:01 pm

    Kim John Payne has done incredible work on bullying and teasing in public and private schools around the world. Bullying is one of the main topics of conversation and work among faculty members where I teach. Our school is small, and we can work individually with children who are bullying and those who are being bullied, and with the classes as groups. The oldest students in the school work with the others to resolve issues and create plans for change. It’s our first year working extensively with this program, and it’s making a huge impact on the way the children treat one another.
    you can read a little about this work, which is called Social Inclusion, at Kim’s website:

  • Sara

    March 29, 2008 at 6:52 pm

    To Sonja and Chris: I appreciate your desire for a better situation for your children, but I wonder if avoidance is really the solution. As Alice’s article mentioned, bullying is something that happens in more than just schools.

  • falwyn

    March 29, 2008 at 7:53 pm

    To Sara:
    I’m also just starting homeschooling my daughter (we’ll take it one year at a time and see what happens, is our current philosophy). I see the avoidance of bullying (and other social nightmares, like I went through in middle school) as merely a perk though — it is hardly my primary reason for homeschooling.
    My personal hope for my kids is that having the chance to mature in a safer environment, reinforced more by parents and others than by a constant barrage of peer pressure, will have the perspective, sense of worth and self, and confidence to better deal with such things in other situations, and to *create* better situations wherever they go.
    I’m sure part of it all, regardless of where our kids are educated, is to change our expectations of what workplace or education “culture” should be like….

  • Anonymous

    March 30, 2008 at 12:39 pm

    Bullying is a terrible thing to endure, and sadly, it often starts at home–whether bullies are themselves physically or emotionally abused, or their parents allow aggressive behavior that leads to bullying. It’s important to teach respect and tolerance. Teachers can only do so much in schools–parents are responsible for laying the foundation…

  • Andrea

    March 30, 2008 at 2:22 pm

    I was bullied in school, but I also learned how to stick up for myself and others. I have always been one to stand up for the under-dog, so to speak, because of it. At my high school, there was a program (I forgot the name of it) of other students who were chosen by faculty. They attended a conflict-management seminar and then they handled the conflicts that occured on school grounds (with counselor help, of course). This method really seemed to help decrease the amount of bullying in our school. It was used as an intervention and “court” system, of sorts and helped the people involved (bullies and bullied) to communicate their issues in a non-threatening environment. Personally, I didn’t know that this program did not exist on a wide-spread level, but I certainly think it should! It didn’t completely stop the bullying, but ANY complaint, made by kids being bullied, parents or even just witnesses of bullying, was taken seriously.

  • Anon

    March 30, 2008 at 11:17 pm

    I was concerned about the possibility of bullying at our elementary school, so I decided to do something about it.
    I found out from teachers and admin where incidents of bullying had occurred in the past. Yup; lunch, hallways and recess. So, I now volunteer in the areas and during the days where the most incidents occurred. In the time I’ve been doing it, I’ve intervened in numerous situations and reported the stuff to admin. Another thing a few parents do is help the teachers with paperwork, photocopying and grading of papers, so the teachers are more inclined to go out for ‘some fresh air’ on the playground at our urging. We also got rid of all the benches so the teachers couldn’t sit around and visit instead of supervising! I saw a group of teachers sitting around and yakking almost the entire time for a few days in a row. I trotted in to the Principal on day 3, and encouraged him to go ‘see what a great job the teachers and aids were doing’ supervising the playground. He then set up supervising areas and a rotating schedule. I can’t believe the school waited 7 years to do this – ridiculous! That alone has caused a sharp decrease in the incidents – the teachers are lookouts now, not sitting or standing in groups, visiting. I got them all whistles, too. Seem extreme? There are 1200 kids at our K-8 school!
    Every 3 years, the children attend a bullying seminar. I don’t know if this is helping or not.
    Our school started this silly “Peace Place” where kids who were bullying and being bullied were supposed to meet up and talk it out. Guess what?! It set up the victim as a public tattletale and open to more abuse! So they got rid of that quickly.
    I hope some other parents either post what their schools are doing, or take some ideas from here. It is a REAL problem. Even in schools who preach the no-bullying tolerance rule.

  • elswhere

    March 30, 2008 at 11:57 pm

    Bullying sucks, for everyone. I’m always horrified when I hear about teachers and administrators who hear about bullying and ignore it or blame the victims. And yet I’m sure that, like Kari, there are many many bullying incidents that I failed to notice in the nine years I worked at a school.
    One current trend that seems hopeful is that of teaching kids who are neither bullies nor bullied– the bystanders, who make up the greatest proportion of a school population, and who often feel powerless and scared as witnesses to bullying– to stick up for kids who are being bullied. When this is promoted and done well, it can be good for all three groups: the victims, who get some allies and some relief; the bullies, who get some needed smackdowns (ideally not literally) from the peers whose opinions they care most about; and the bystanders, who are empowered and learn that they can actually make a difference.
    There are packaged programs that address the issue– one is called Second Step–and I think they take this approach at least partially.
    Of course none of it works if victims’ reports are belittled and ignored.

  • Jem

    March 31, 2008 at 8:24 am

    I was the one who got bullied the most at my school, I’d guess, although it was pretty much only emotionally. And it still hurts me now. I’m 24 now, and I find it really hard to talk to people, and I have panic attacks before I go out in public sometimes. Pretty much every day was a nightmare for me back then, because every thing I did/said was laughed at and mocked. I used to skip school all the time because of it, and I almost got in trouble when the dean called me at home, but LUCKILY that time I was actually sick and had a doctors certificate. I somehow finished school with incredibly high marks but I’m surprised I managed to do it, considering how little I showed up to class.
    Bullying SUCKS. And its harder to judge how to deal with things that have no physical signs (although I guess the bullying you’re talking about is equal emotional/physical).

  • alice


    March 31, 2008 at 11:09 am

    Anon, you’re awesome. I just love how proactive you’ve been. It’s amazing that some of those simple, practical changes don’t occur to the school administration, but too often they don’t.

  • Meaghan

    March 31, 2008 at 11:26 am

    I’m not a parent and I don’t have much personal experience with bullying, but it is something that I have always been concerned about. Roots of Empathy is a Canadian program that seems to be having some success:

  • Elizabeth

    March 31, 2008 at 4:09 pm

    I was bullied badly in high school too. I was on anti-depressants at 14, and had a nervous breakdown at 16. They let me “skip” my senior year of high school and go to college a year early on my therapist’s recommendation, which literally saved my life. I went back for graduation and was pushed off the top row of bleachers by some girls who still hated me after not seeing me for a whole year. When I read the NY Times story, I wished there was a comments section, or a way for me to get in touch with the kid and tell him that it does get better.
    The administrators always blamed me for causing problems, never the bullies. I always “deserved” what I was getting. A couple of years after me, a homosexual student successfully sued my former school district for telling him he deserved his bullying too.
    One thing I never see mentioned is that when you’re hated all the time, it’s really easy to start hating everyone back. I think that is the worst legacy for me, personally. I am a huge pessimist, I don’t trust anyone, and I shamefully delight in hearing what losers my tormentors turned out to be. And I did occasionally provoke the bullying by telling the bullies what I thought of them, but in words they couldn’t understand. They understood the tone of my voice though.
    I agree completely with the posters who said that their bullying experiences is why they will homeschool their children. No 14-year-old is equipped, no matter how “well-socialized” they are, to find out that 250 people that they respect (their classmates) actually despise them and enjoy making them miserable. Then add on the trusted adults that agree with their peers. That’s not socializing – that’s torture.

  • Sonja

    March 31, 2008 at 2:52 pm

    Sara, Being in a school where no one cares about you, where you are demoralized regularly, where you feel like a piece of crap and everyone tells you that you are one, is different than being bullied as an adult in a work situation. Generally, people choose their jobs, and if they don’t like the job they have, they can get a different one. Kids with parents who are unwilling or unable to take them out of schools where they are being abused (emotionally and/or physically) are victims that can’t do anything about their situation. As someone who was bullied, I assure you that I didn’t “learn” anything useful from that experience – except that I won’t ever put my children in that position. I don’t think “avoiding” that for my children is any worse than “avoiding” prison, which is also one of my goals.
    One of my biggest problems with the Billy Wolfe story (as Alice presented it – I didn’t read the article) is that his parents knew about this FOR YEARS and left him in that environment! In my mother’s defense, I never spoke much about what I went through. For parents to know all of the details, especially when there was physical abuse occurring, and keep sending their kid back – I just can’t understand that.

  • Jenny

    March 31, 2008 at 8:20 pm

    It’s important for children who are being bullied to have different circles of friends so that school isn’t their whole life. Enroll them in a dance/judo/swimming/bible/art class where there are a different group of kids. If you live in a small town, take them to the next town over. Expand their horizons, it will help them get through it.

  • Didi

    March 31, 2008 at 10:37 pm

    When I was in freshman year of college I took a critical thining class and I remember one woman’s story about bullying. She grew up in the projects (the ghetto, for those who dont know) and everyday for several months a boy would make her bring in 50 cents to give to him. The girl would steal the 50 cents from her mother’s wallet and eventually her mother found out and was furious at the situation. The next day she couldn’t pay the bully the 50 cents, so the bully beat her up. To my surprise, when she got home her mom was actually angry at her daughter for not fighting back, so the next day the mother went to pick up her daughter from school. She and her mother followed the boy about half way home and then the mother called out the boy and made her daughter fight him. The woman said this was a great lesson she learned in life because even though she was beat up, she learned not to let people walk all over. The bully never asked her for money again because he knew that she would put up a fight and give him a hard time. Haha so yes, this was just something very interesting a recall! Its not a conventional method to bullying, but very interesting story none the less!

  • Chris

    March 31, 2008 at 11:45 pm

    Dear Sara,
    Avoidance? Serisously. Of course it’s avoidance!
    I also avoid rush hour traffic. I work form home, I’m self-employed and completely empowered. Thus, I have also avoided working for other people. I had to learn that bosses can sometimes be just like bullies. My kids will too. Just because we home school doesn’t mean we live in a bubble. We’re not immune to the crappy crap the world has to offer.

  • Erika

    April 1, 2008 at 10:01 am

    My husband and I have taken the stance that kids can say what they want to say, but if they touch you or put their hands on you or hurt you in any way then you defend yourself. My son hasn’t had any issues. We may be lucky but I think if you are not going to remove your child from a threatening situation, you should give that child a way to defend themselves. Counting on teachers and administrators to protect your child is a joke, especially since they are not around adults most of the time in school.

  • Terry

    April 1, 2008 at 12:28 pm

    There are *so* many variables involved in this topic.
    First is the self-confidence of your child. I want so badly for my own son to be confident enough to laugh and not be uptight. The uptight make the best marks for bullying.
    Unfortunately, sometimes that just doesn’t matter. Sometimes your kid just gets singled out by a few no matter the reason.
    Depending on the maturity of the kids, simply having them work together cooperatively can help. That maturity and a measure of empathy has to reside in both kids first, however. Some people can simply be missing empathy.
    I grew up in schools where fighting among boys was pretty normal. It mostly boiled down to shoving matches and only a few punches thrown. I was bullied at some points in my life, but I tried to establish myself early at each school and I usually got to live my life. I remember the ones that really got bullied, however. I was always nice to them, but I am ashamed to say that I zipped my lip when they were being bullied or even laughed along. I am now thinking about a few of those faces, but I cannot remember names. They probably turned out okay, but you know they carry that pain, and believe me, I know the weight of psychological pain.
    My own son (7 years old) was recently as his after school program and telling me that there was a broken toy. An attendant asked what happened and another boy (4th grader) said my son did it (the other boy had). My son denied it and the boy said “don’t lie.”. Anyhow, it boiled down to being a non-issue with the attendant, but as my son told me, he is not strong enough to break the toy. The other boy told him in private that if he went to the attendant to tell on him that he would hit him. I told my son that he did not have to put up with threats and to tell that he was being threatened. He said that he would stay quiet… that it was better than being hit. I wanted him to stand up for himself rather than me intervening.
    Anyhow…”Jeremy” by Pearl Jam is brought to mind.

  • kate

    April 2, 2008 at 9:27 am

    Anti-bullying programs aren’t well supported in the research to date, mostly because they’re not adequately addressing the more global issue of social-emotional learning for all students. Lots of communities have glommed on to Character Counts! and character education. But we need to explicitly teach social-emotional curriculum every day in the classroom and work together (parents, schools, communities) to develop a supportive, engaging culture and climate in our schools. The fact of the matter is that we need to teach our kids how to label, recognize, and cope with emotions; how to respect themselves as much as others; how to accept criticism and/or disagree with someone; hell, even just how to greet people you meet. I work in a school in one of the few states that has mandated social-emotional learning standards (just like reading, writing, and math) and we’re struggling with implementation. But, it’s got to start somewhere!

  • beth

    April 2, 2008 at 3:44 pm

    Suggestions to all parents, take your child’s comments and concerns seriously. My seven year old daughter would tell me that everytime the teacher would change seat assignments, she would put the same child who has behavior issues next to my daughter. I kept being positive and telling her that her teacher must do if for a reason and that she (my daughter)was doing the right thing being nice to him.,,,,etc,etc.Well, now that the school year is almost over,I have discovered something of the things he has beens saying to her. Two weeks ago he called her (whispered it to her) that she was a “stupid dumb bitch.” When I calmly (even thought I was screaming in my head) asked w hat she did,she said “well, I just tried to let it go.'” She did not tell a teacher because she was A)embarrassed to use the words B) didn’t want to get the boy in trouble.
    I explained to her that is was never okay for anyone to say that to her; for her to say to anyone, or for that boy to say to anyone else. I told her I had to talk to her teacher because there needed to be a consequence. She was about to throw up the next day because she was so nervous the boy would be mad at her.
    It makes me so upset. I have never been attracted to home schooling, but if this is how it is going to be in second grade, I am beginning to consider teaching my child in a loving, fair environment.

  • Melissa

    April 2, 2008 at 4:42 pm

    Well Sonja, we are slightly off topic from bullying, but I do not think that the reason people are glad they don’t have to go back to highschool is because it was so horrible to not get one on one attention and have lunch with classmates rather than being taught by mom, and eating lunch with mom. Yes maybe the bullying is why. And also maybe the hormones, and the new abstract thinking they are just getting used to using in social environment. No one wants to have to relearn hard lessons of growing up, but being a teen is hard regardless of being home-school or public schooled.

  • Laura

    April 3, 2008 at 12:52 am

    One resource that I have found to be VERY helpful is Easing the Teasing by Judy S. Freedman. It discusses what it looks like and how to deal with it for grades K-12, what to do if your child is the bully, and how to handle the situation with teachers and administrators.

  • alice


    April 4, 2008 at 10:53 am

    I don’t know why there’s hostility being expressed toward the parents here who refer to homeschooling as an option. If you can homeschool your children and you feel it’s the best for your kid, that’s absolutely wonderful. If one of the reasons you’re doing it is to protect your child from an abusive environment, that’s not avoidance, it’s dealing with the problem. How much learning can be going on if your kid is terrified of school?

  • pnuts mama

    April 4, 2008 at 4:29 pm

    ooh, alice, that was an interesting observation, b/c i was going to say that i felt that perhaps some of the reactions to sara was what was actually harsh- sara’s comment seemed even-toned and was raising a point that she was concerned with. when i read some of the reactions to her comment i felt the sting (dare i say a little bullying?)- now granted, i can understand where the homeschooling community as a whole has had to deal with a lot of crap and often reacts from a posture of defense, but still.
    when i read sara’s comment i did think that she had a decent point for discussion in the sense that avoiding situations can leave one without any frame of reference when put in the situation at another time, even as an observer. i don’t believe that the primary reason why folks decide to homeschool is so they can isolate their kids from society, but i do wonder what, if any effects it could have on our society at large (i am *not* against homeschooling, btw, nor do i think the answer is “being bullied toughens them up for the real world!”)- i just thought that perhaps there could be some validity in sara’s original question, and it was worthy of discussion.
    on to practical ways to deal with bullying- we work with high school aged kids in small-group environments, and we have a rule that any time a kid insults another kid (within my earshot) they have to get up in front of the group and pay that kid 3 sincere compliments- on something about the kid, not just “he has nice sneakers” (that would be re-stated as “I think he has good taste in sneakers”). it is a very small way in which we deal with hs drama and esteem issues and help kids see that they have more in common with each other than they might believe.
    also, my husband was a peer mediator in high school, and from what he says it was a very effective way to deal with many types of conflict that arose- from daily bs between kids to much more serious incidents which could have quickly escalated to violence.

  • alice


    April 4, 2008 at 6:17 pm

    Yeah, pnuts, you’re right–it was that last comment (by Melissa) that I took exception to. The rest of it, including Sara, was fine. Anyhow! Bullying is a problem for all kinds of people who can’t or don’t want to homeschool, and they shouldn’t be made to feel that it’s their only option. So I like all the practical suggestions, here.

  • Sue

    April 6, 2008 at 3:08 pm

    Thanks for the even-handed nature of your article, Alice. I get a little weary of parents thinking bullies are other peoples’ kids. I have by turns wondered if mine was a bully or being bullied. From all the reading I’ve done, neither seems to be the case in a chronic way but the potential is there in both directions.
    Fact is, we live in a culture of fear that is so ramped up about the horrible violence perpetrated by bullies and their victims that we can at times exaggerate the nature of the problems. I understand that denial is f-d up, but so also is us vs them mentality that separates kids into categories that are too rigidly “victim” and “abuser”. Actually that’s true for adults too!
    The most helpful book I have read on the subject of kids social lives is “Best Friends Worst Enemies” by Michael Thompson et. al. It analyzes the context in which teasing happens and helps you find the (often fine) line between normal teasing and bullying. It’s not big on tactics, so much as just helping you get it. Other books focus more on tactics and I can’t name them off, but it’s been helpful to me to think of solutions by getting a better understanding of context.
    There are also some distinct differences between how girls and boys bully that are interesting to parse. Girls often do not get enough credit for their ability to bully and are invariably stereotyped as the kinder gentler sex, when any woman who has grown up unpopular should know that’s SO not true.
    I disagree with people who say schools don’t care. Individuals in school systems do care but are often unable to help because they don’t know what is happening, especially when victims underreport. Depending on the size of the school, schools are more or less effective with their anti-bullying programs. Not everyone can choose their school, but the smaller the school and the more active the parents, the more effective the programs will be.
    Meanwhile, if bullying and teasing can’t be stopped then the victims and potential victims do have to be taught how to take care of themselves, how to defend themselves and where it is safe to go when they feel unsafe.
    A lot of parents get up in arms when they are told their kids might instigate some of the teasing that is directed at them but it is just true that kids who overreact to teasing are more likely to be chronic targets (my daughter among them.) It is also true that any child can be a bully if they are not taught regularly the difference between positive and negative relating to one another.
    Also I have found that placing my daughter in a diverse setting has helped with the dynamics of racism and intolerance that she runs into as a child of color. Being the one kid who looks different from everyone else is a set-up and a lot of transracially adoptive parents overlook that fact, and a lot of transracially adopted kids underreport the racial bullying they experience.
    I’ve been a victm. I know the pain. I also have memories of the times when I found someone weaker than myself to bully. We’ve got to deal with all the responsible parties including but certainly not limited to the kids.
    OK that was the long version of thanks, good article.

  • Earth Girl

    April 7, 2008 at 12:04 pm

    When my son was in 7th grade, he tried to stop a girl from bullying another girl. She grabbed him by the collar and repeatedly bashed his forehead in the wall. The school nurse called me and when I determined there was no physical damage, I grabbed both his hands and intensely told him that he did the right thing, I was proud of him, this didn’t change who he was, and all the things in a mother’s heart. The assistant principal had come in the nurse’s office unknown to me and, with wet eyes, gave Ricky the male version of a hug (punch on the shoulder) and said, “just keep on being Ricky.” Ricky broke out in a big smile and the incident was behind him. The girl was expelled. What bothers me most about these stories is that trusted adults aren’t there to prevent the psychological damage of bullying.

  • Ken

    April 7, 2008 at 8:11 pm

    I thought your article was right on target in discussing both the impact and pervasiveness of bullying. One correction: Studies have been done of bullying prevention programs. In particular, studies by Dan Olweus, a professor of psychology in Norway, who is often seen as the father of bullying research, has shown that implementation of comprehensive bullying prevention programs in schools can result in a 50% decline in bullying incidents. When you consider the dramatic impact that these incidents can have on kids (one survey indicated that kids identified bullying as the worst experience of childhood other than losing a loved one) these programs are well worth the time, energy and money that they require to implement. A number of these programs are available (including one I developed: The ABC’s of Bullying Prevention). (Alice, I am the uncle of your college friend Wendy, who told me about your column.)

  • Melissa

    April 9, 2008 at 4:29 pm

    Just to clarify. I am not against home schooling. At-all. I just don’t think that public highschool is to blame for why kids have a hard time going through the teen years and look back on it negitively. That’s all I meant to say.

  • braine

    April 25, 2008 at 3:39 pm

    The following doesn’t diminish the validity of the issue at all — in fact, it even more starkly underlines the pervasiveness and chain-reaction consequences of bullying — but the New York Times apparently did some shoddy research in their original article, missing the police report on Billy Wolfe’s own abusive behavior.

  • KitKatsKnits

    August 2, 2008 at 1:00 pm

    I do not have children of my own to raise, and when I do have children of my own they will be going to public school. However, I do have children that I teach on a regular basis. I am a martial arts instructor.
    One of the things that we teach here is self-control. We tell our students that it’s okay to get mad at someone or something but not to act on that anger. It’s only okay to hit if you are afraid for your well-being. There are 4 other principles that we teach here. Effort, Etiquette, Sincerity, and Character are the other 4.
    I have a teen student that is now being homeschooled. He is overweight and what would be called and “emo” kid. Needless to say he stands out a bit from the rest of the crowd. He started in public school but was bullied so mercilessly that his mother pulled him out.
    I still have problems with him sometimes, but after only 2 months he has made great improvements. Gone is the shy child that used to look at the ground the entire time he was here. Gone is the child that used to apologize for EVERYTHING. Gone is the child that says he can’t do things. He actually tries now.
    I suspect that a lot of the time bullies are doing it because of a lack of self-confidence, not because they like being mean. It’s what my friend used to say when I was in high school. They’re blowing out other’s peoples candles so theirs can seem brighter.
    I would suggest that if you suspect your child is a bully or being bullied you look into a local martial arts school. It will do amazing things for their self-confidence. You’ll see a huge improvement in just a few short months. Just make sure you do your homework first. You don’t want them to end up in a school where the sensei is just as big a bully as the one you’re trying to fix/protect them from.