HomeHealth & BehaviorBullying

12 bullying myths

What do parents really need to know about bullying? It's not necessarily what you think.

By Valle Dwight

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Myths and misconceptions

Not a day goes by without another gut-wrenching tale of bullying making headlines. Schoolyards erupt in violence. Social-media sites turn into cyber lynch mobs. Kids commit suicide after enduring months of abuse. Despite all the media attention, parents often remain in the dark about what actions to take when it happens to their children — or when their children bully others.

What can parents really do? What are the signs to watch for? How do you distinguish garden-variety personality conflicts between kids (which may include some mean behavior) from actual bullying? We contacted two experts, Drexel University professor and director of the Center for the Prevention of School-Aged Violence Charles Williams (aka Dr. Chuck) and clinical psychologist and author John Mayer, to clear up the the common misconceptions about bullying and give parents the facts.

Next:  Myth #1 »

Valle Dwight is a reporter, writer, and mother of two school-aged boys. She has written for many magazines, including FamilyFun, Wondertime, and Working Mother.

Comments from readers

"I am a middle school Counselor and have been working with bullying situations for several years. One of the problems that I see is that there is no bully education in the elementary school. Bully programs need to be started in the first grade and maybe even kindergarden. This needs to be a school wide effort with parent involvement. I agree that there needs to be consistent punishment for the bullies and lessons to empower the targets to be able to stand up to the bullies and not resort to violence. "
"Don't believe the hype! No one cares about the children who are being bullied or harassed. My daughter was harassed by a group of her so called friends, when she complained to the principal and her teacher it didn't until i called the moms. And when she complained about two boys in her class making fun of her to me, i asked the mom if i could talk and she was having a bad day and make a huge scene in front of the school to distract from her son's behaviour. The principal asked me if i could let him know next time instead of speaking to the parents, maybe next time I'll go to the board of education if he can't seem to control these crazy kids. I have no regrets wanting to talk to the mother instead of the teacher or principal, because this has happened numerous times, just with different kids. If i knew my child was harrasing someone she would be in big trouble. Some of the kids were very upset that my child told on the boys and started treating her differently,and constantly! asking her what happened. People talk to your kids and tell them that someone elses business is none of theirs, and not to get involved unless the person is in physical harm. I always believe that kids reflect their parents behavior, that's why they are being mean to other kids. I always tell my child to be nice to the popular and not popular, and no one should be left out and excluded. Such a shame these kids will soon be teenagers and adults, like our world needs more of them. "
"i think bullies have no life and have no friends they hit on my girlfrind andi got suppended for 10 days because i stood up for her to me that is wrong "
"My son was in first grade last year and endured a lot of bullying from the same child through out the school year. The last month of school, the other childs friends started harassing my son also. We have decided to home school him due to this. My son's father says that this is just a "rite of passage" and that all children go through this. If so, it's a "rite" that is wrong and as long as I can keep him away from this situation, I will. (My husband and I both went to the school and met with the teacher and principal, the only punishment any of the other children ever recieved was to have their PE taken away. My son was kicked, punched, pushed down and choked.) "
"Gotta luv how some deflect the issue and decide to turn it on spelling issues in postings... LMFAO - ! Now that's productive . FYI - most are typing on mobile devices or using short hand - miss English professor. Anyways - I think everyone is responsiable 4 the bullying ! It's part the parents fault for not teaching their kids how to deal with others as well as the schools fault 4 allowing some of it. As 4 the one parent upset that her kid was protecting himself - come on ! U should teach ur kid to walk away and deal with it thru the admin. Or with u. When I went to school some 20 yrs ago - my parents would b at tge school as well as the other class members House that nite putting a end to it!! Those kids would b forced thru the parents to become best buddys These kids learn this behavior from somewhere and I bet 100 bucks they learn it from their own family units !! Time to address these issues head on - and stop pushing paper in policies !! Actions speak louder then words in the school handbook ! It's time for parents to take it outta the schools office and deal with it head on. If it cones down to having dinner 3 times a week with the kids family so be it ! Make the time and pick ur battles ! "
"if your child goes to the pgh public schools you mind as well protect your kid by your self . because the school my son attend was a joke the staff just turned their head did not care about bulling at all "
"It is interesting that one article suggests ignoring here, and another says to never ignore. I have rarely seen ignoring works unless the child is TRULY confident enough not to care what the bully or peers think. However, I do agree with the "myth" that there could ever be one way to deal with bullying. Do whatever works. Talk to your child, practice word retaliation, practice ignoring, talk to the teachers, the admin, the bully, the bully's parents, a lawyer, the police, a martial arts instructor or a boxing instructor. Document everything. Home school if needed. "
"I am furious. My son has just started Mattawoman Middle School in Waldorf, Maryland. He's never had to serve one day of detention, been suspended, or had any disipline problems in the past. Moreover, every year he's been awarded student of the month, quarter, etc. He's also received Citizenship Awards practically every quarter. Yet, I received a call from the Vice-Principal on Friday informing me of his suspension from school. During the course of the day, another boy bigger than him, pushed him against the wall and punched him. When he tried to walk away to avoid getting in touble, the boy began following him closely. My son felt like he was going to do something else to him from behind so he defended himself. He hit the little boy who was trying to kick him and he grabbed his foot to protect himself. Then, the fight was broken up. I spoke with both the Vice Principal and the Principal. They refused to over turn the supension. I feel the school system is sending the wrong m! essage to students. When you feel threated and can't defend yourself, what are you suppossed to do?? School Officials aren't available every second of the day. This country is dealing with a bullying epidemic. Precious youngsters are taking their lives more than every before as a result of being victims of bullying and those strong enough to stand up for themselves are being punished. Shame. Shame. Shame "
"I get this newsletter and this is the first time I've commented. I was bullied as a 5th to throughout8th grade. Now that I look back on those matter at hand. I strongly believe it drove me to change schools subconsciously. Then after getting to this new school that summer I worked out to get fit. So, then I'm think date all the girls hang out with trouble making peers smart off in class. Now, comes the reality of how we do take this and harm ourselves. I did it slowly with drugs I had turned to that made me not feel at all bad or good. So I was commiting suicide just cowardly. I'm glad to say that I'm clean today! Now, Im deeply worried about both of my daughters. If anyone read this and would email me I would be so graful. I would rather no e-mail.with my name sorry. "
"Almost all of the comments from parents that I've read contain misspellings, grammatical errors, incomplete sentences, and unclear ideas. I wonder what their child's English teacher (or other parents) would think of the ability of these parents to solve the bullying problem in a rational manner. "
"Our school has a no tolerance policy but it is only enforced on some kids. My son was punched by one of the other kids three times in one day. All in different classes with different teachers by the same other child. When he grew tired of it, he punched back. Then they both got suspended for three days for fighting. I went to the school and the principles told me "not to be too hard on him, everbody knew he was defending himself.But everybody knows you can't hit a colby kid without problems". "
"I agree that we've have to be vigilant about dealing with bullying, but we must also closely examine - and remediate - some of the key root causes. I believe there's a strong correlation between our lax attitudes about violence and the bullying epidemic. We’ve allowed our society as a whole to become fully engulfed, acclimated, and accustomed to horrendous, gratuitous violence as a normal component of daily life. Perversely, our society actually savors and glorifies extreme cruelty and destructiveness! And as we’ve become numb and indifferent to negativity and violence, bullying has escalated to epidemic proportions. Surely, that’s no coincidence. "
"my son was teased, i would like to say it started in fourth grade with name calling by some of the other boys, but it really started in first grade by his teacher.He transferred into the district in the middle of the school year and she was annoyed at having "another new student" this was right after Katrina.She was abusive toward him the very first day and it only got worse. Both my husband and I went to the principle and councelor to no avail. i know for a fact she warned the other teachers about "this kid" and by third grade, when he had two teachers, they would take him into the hall and double team him, scolding him for being absent, or not doing his homework or having sloppy handwriting, the kids in two class rooms heard it all, almost every day. None of the kids would even talk to him, much less play with him for fear the teachers would turn on them. By the fourth grade the kids were taunting him. I went to the school, they talked to the classes about bullying and te! asing and it would ease up for a week or two and than start again, finally i pulled him out to home school. I really believe it starts with the teachers, many parents of bullied kids that i have spoken with recall the child having teacher that picked on the child in some way. the kids see this and come to believe some thing is wrong with that kid, depression sets in and the child becomes withdrawn and insecure and the whole thing snowballs. My son is in seventhgrade now, after homeschooling for two years he returned last year to public school, it was a little rocky at first, but his personal confidence had grown enough. This year i have him in a small private school and when a kid started to hassel him, he ignored him for aas long as he could, but two weeks ago the bully crossed the line and my son put him in a headlock and told him no more. so far there has been no more. I your child has a teacher that does not like him/her, GET YOUR CHILD TRANSFERRED to a different teacher, any way you can. go up the chain of command, get a lawyer. "
"My boy was bullied and reporting it to the school did little. they suspended him a few days only to come back and corner my kid alone in a locker room . Next, He put a shoelace around his neck and tightened it. Luckily other kids saw it and he backed off. The school was upset with me when i cslled the campus police. Yes, i had him arrested,but again he was only suspended. I had to obtain a lawyer that specializes in educational issues to get the kid transferred to another school. I did know the parents and was told this stopped his bullying behavior, so i think it helped my son and the bully. It was inconvenient for the other parents, but at least their child never got to the point of causing permanent harm to anyone that may have resulted in prison time. "
"I have noticed at my son's new grade school after coming from a private school the bullying is out of hand. He never had issues at the private school. My son is also a Nov bday and we didn't hold him back because he is above his grade level as it is and we worried about him getting bored and having a hold new set of behavior issues. I have worked in his classroom to see what goes on in a day. I have noticed that kids who were clearly head back before 1st grade who are now 7yrs old are being bullies. "know it all's" So Im in a strange situation. I have a almost 6yr old in 1st grade who I didn't hold back who gets along with everyone, but have has classmates who are bullying because they are older picking on him. Also, noticed that some of these older students can't do the required class work and held back. Go figure. So I could hold my son back and he could be a know it all which I think goes to show that these "older children" are bored and could be something related to the ! situation of holding children back. I would be interested in finding out the kids held back if they are mor pron to bullying. "
"There was a dude that got beat up by a dude on crutches. "
"I believe that two points were forgotten: Its always larger kids that bully the smaller ones. I know this is extremely false, as I, a teen who's been bullied all my life, was always bigger than everyone else. Yet, in everything I ever see about bullying, its always some short kid being bullied by a larger one. This has resulted in doubts on whether I'd been bullied. Secondly, people assume that everyone hates or fears the bully. "The bully" is not a title, it is subjective based on who you are. I was bullied by a person who everyone else loved because he was smart and hilarious(which made it so that, when I said something about it, everyone hated me). "
"Enough. Not every bullied kid can retaliate like the kid in Australia last week. Little guy bullying big guy and big guy body slams runt. Good. Advice. Call an attorney. 99% charge 0$ for the first appointment, then they send a note to the school. Problem solved."
"My childrens school has a 'zero tolerance' policy, but it is really pointless. One of my kids has had another kid elbow her twice and push her with her books and the other kid has yet to be suspended. Yet another child is suspended for 'sexual harrassment' for saying another student has a cute butt. When i confront the school counselor and principal about my child being bullied excuses were made because the child bullying mine, her mother passed away a year ago. But i bet if my child were to fight back, she would get suspended. I am so frustrated and angry. I have never had a bad word to say about my kids school, until now. And i have 4 kids in school and 1 graduated already. And just a year ago we had a kid in a neighboring school commit suicide because the bullying had gotten so bad. It is a truly sad thing now days."
"Most kids dont report bullying because it only makes it worse. But then the teachers and school officials say the kid has to report it in order for them to act. So the kids dont tell teachers so it wont get worse, but they tell their parents, the parents go to the school and report it and the school says the kids have to report it to a teacher or school official. Well, DANG, your child tells you, you tell the school, isnt that still reporting it????? No wonder kids dont tell on the bullies, they see it as nothing gets done about it if they tell."
"I agree w/many of the tactics, especially about not meeting up w/the parent of the child doing the bullying. Many parents don't even know they children are bullies and many condone the aggressive behavior at home.. what parent will admit that their child bullied another? when the parents admit that their child has a problem than they will be 1 step to preventing it.. I was bullied when i was in school so i've become that parent that will sit up in school everyday until the situation changes and until something is done. "
"PLEASE print this so it can be printed at home. This is invaluable information. I have grandkids ages 10 to 3, and their parents need to read this."
"Bullying should never be tolerated in schools and the teachers need to wake up and realize that when a child tell them this is happening, do something. Listen to the child, observe what is happening, stop turning a deaf ear. No wonder kids take it upon themselves to stop it sometimes even though they know they will get in trouble. They are not allowed to hit back when bullied or they too will get into trouble. I feel it is better to get in trouble with the school than to allow the bullying to continue for then the parents can take it up when he or she gets in trouble with the school. "
"I'm delighted that Valle debunked many of the myths that are attached to bullying - Preventing, Intervening and Finding Solutions. Not knowing is no longer an excuse. There's lots of information out there and you can access to learn more. Workshops and information sessions are also available. Parents and schools need to partner and work together to protect kids. Thanks you, Valle. "
"All this advice teaches kids and parents that only school officials have the know-how to stop bullying; Kids and parents are powerless without the school to rescue them. Ignoring a bully can backfire too: It can enrage the little sociopath to the point that he attacks just to to force the issue. Bullying should be stopped at the lowest level, we shouldn't immediately involve the school principle in every case. "
"I think that the problem of bullying has become so obvious because of these silly and humiliating rules for the victims You give us as advice. If you do not hit back the abuser will continue to bull you, and he would think of more cruel and barbaric ways to make you cry or do what he wants. Tell your teacher! Do you know, that the teachers are all blind and death at schools, same as councelors? They will react only if your child falls with broken head.My friend's son was teased and held by three boys at school, pinched and slapped. It happened at the recess, so teachers considered it to be a game! My friend's son hit these boys, as he defended himself (no edults were there who interfered in the conflict) and the abusers ran to the teacher to complaim. The result-My friend's son is spending recess time at classroom, the boys are enjoying bullying at the playground! Is that fair?"