A 12-Year Old Girl Is Seen By Friends Teasing And Bullying Other Kids At School. What Should The Friends Do?

Steven Schlozman, M.D., Massachusetts General Hospital

Question: A 12-year old girl is seen by friends teasing and bullying other kids at school. What should the friends do? If they are told to "tell the teachers" what happens to them as "tattle-tales?" What is the best way to deal with bullying in school?

Answer: This is a wonderful question for -- on a number of fronts: One is that we have these terms that parents use and teachers use that to many students seem somewhat archaic and old fashioned. So I've often had the experience of saying, "Is there bullying going on?" And the kids look at me because they don't understand that term anymore. So you want to sure first of all that we understand what the kids mean when they say bullying. Do they mean what we think they mean?

If it is what we think it means, which is picking on other kids, exercising a power differential where the child has no way out, it's often not helpful to have them tell on the teacher -- or tell on the child themselves to the teacher because the kids then end up being implicated as part of the dynamic that's created the bullying in the first place. Remember that bullying is play that's going on and there's many characters in it: There's the person who's doing the bullying, there's the person who's being bullied, and then there are the bystanders who also play a very important role. Often the bystanders do their very best to keep the bullying going on in order to keep the attention off of them.

So the best thing would be for the parents to let the teachers know, and then for the teacher to approach the classroom as a means of understanding the bullying from a broad perspective -- the role that everybody plays without laying blame on any one person. That has been studied and it has been shown to be the most effective means by which bullying can be decreased.

Steven Schlozman, M.D., Massachusetts General Hospital
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