Beating the Bully: Cope with Bullying At Any Age A blog about bullying. 2016-08-30T00:57:04Z Katherine Prudente, LCAT, RDT <![CDATA[Thank You!]]> 2013-02-01T01:06:56Z 2013-01-31T15:48:49Z beating the bullyIt has been a pleasure to be writing “Beating the Bully” this past year! Sadly, it has come to an end for the blog but I hope not for all our efforts to combat this issue. 2012 was the year bullying and it’s impact on our lives came into the foreground. There was an international dialogue about how to address bullying, how bullying has affected our children, ourselves and how we differentiate between bullying and normative conflict between young people. 

While there have been no easy answers to solve this pervasive problem the attention bullying has gotten in new research about the psychology of bullying, in the news and mass media is a start.

Thank you for reading the blog and I hope to (virtually) meet you all again in the future!

Girl in the park photo available from Shutterstock

Katherine Prudente, LCAT, RDT <![CDATA[Archive: Mean Girls Mean Chronic Disease]]> 2012-12-24T17:56:34Z 2013-01-08T17:00:17Z “Beating the Bully” will be taking a holiday break until January. I’ll be reposting some of the most popular articles from the past year until then. Happy holidays! 

mean girlYou may have seen my post on the long term health risks related to bullying  over the summer. A new study by Michael Murphy of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, has linked repeated experiences of teen rejection to a decrease in strength in one’s immune system.  The study focused on teen-aged girls and not surprisingly. While many students discuss bullying this type  – social rejection or what I’d call relational aggression – is most commonly reported among girls; I often call it the Mean Girls mentality when working with teens.

Repeated experiences of being targeted can keep a person’s stress response system on high alert at all times. In this latest study, researchers point out that social rejection is particularly damaging:

 High social status in both humans and animals tends to protect against the negative health effects of chronic stress.  However, social rejection — which can be a threat to social status — may be different from other types of stresses….The authors found that girls who had recently been targeted for rejection —which can include everything from bullying and ostracizing to being “dropped” by a peer group or friend —had higher levels of substances indicating activation of genes that produce two specific inflammatory proteins,  nuclear factor kappa-beta and inhibitor of kappa-beta.

Furthermore, girls who were on top of social totem pole responded strongest to social rejection. “But because targeted rejection threatens social status, the authors say, it could produce far more stress in those who have more to lose because they’re at the top.”  

It would then make sense how a study from UCLA in May of this year found that students who bully were also students perceived as popular and well liked. Those students, it would seem, bully as a means to protect the social clout they have. I wrote about that study here.

The continued scientific research about bullying and relational aggression is necessary for clinicians to create sound interventions. As I’ve said, we grow and live in a world of relationships and we have to help our young people foster healthy relationships, not only for their mental health, but physical as well.

Mean girl photo available from Shutterstock

Katherine Prudente, LCAT, RDT <![CDATA[Archive: Bullying and Beer: The Relationship Between Bullying and Early Substance Use]]> 2012-12-24T17:56:48Z 2013-01-04T15:00:41Z “Beating the Bully” will be taking a holiday break until January. I’ll be reposting some of the most popular articles from the past year until then. Happy holidays! 

Through the school-based substance abuse prevention work we offer at Freedom Institute  I constantly connect the dots bullying and substance abusebetween bullying and early substance use. How are two seemingly separate topics woven in together? Bullying behavior, like early substance use, can be viewed as a means for young people to gain social status, manage feelings, and indicate that a young person may need more parental attention. 

When I meet with students we discuss why young people may resort to either behavior (depending on the topic of the day) to get their emotional needs met. The we delineate together  what other, healthier, ways young people can get these needs met to prevent resorting to behavior that can harm themselves or others. As is the case with early substance use, bullying prevention efforts focus on increasing the already current protective factors in a young person’s life. 

What are protective factors? Healthy emotional connections between young people and their families, positive peer relationships, and a school environment in which students feel physically and psychically safe. Additionally, we like to help young people, parents, and teachers have the resources to best intervene when necessary.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) recently posted about the link between early substance use and bullying. (As an aside, this month is not only Anti-Bullying Awareness Month but also National Substance Abuse Prevention Month). I encourage everyone to read their through post on the link between bullying and early substance use.

Kid with beer photo available from Shutterstock

Katherine Prudente, LCAT, RDT <![CDATA[Archive: How to Spot a Bully, a Tool for Educators and Mental Health Care Professionals]]> 2012-12-24T17:57:05Z 2013-01-01T15:00:26Z “Beating the Bully” will be taking a holiday break until January. I’ll be reposting some of the most popular articles from the past year until then. Happy holidays! 

If I had to identify the biggest challenge for those of us who work with young people is helping students identify bullying behavior and coming up with solutionsElsbeth Martindale, PsyD, has created a wonderful tool, How to Spot a Bully card deck. Dr. Martindale reached out to me (and was generous enough to send me a deck for my review). I was so impressed with How to Spot a Bully I wanted to share my thoughts with all of you. 

The deck comes with directions that are simple to follow: the dark teal cards ask the child questions to help them determine if their conflict with a peer(s) could be considered bullying. While working with a student, you can give them the teal cards and ask them separate them into three piles, “yes,” “no,” and, “unsure.” If the child is unsure of their answer, Dr. Martindale thoughtfully asks more specific questions on the back of each teal card to help them answer the main question on the front. The child then is asked to put the card in the appropriate pile according to their answer. From there you can help the child understand why they put their card in certain piles.

If the child finds themselves as a target, bystander or bully the deck has three solution decks for each role! I particularly like the solution deck for the bully. Dr. Martindale expresses empathy for the bullying child and helps them understand their behavior from the outside.

I can see using this tool quite effectively with children from Kindergarden to 5th grade. Not only can you come up with a solution but you can use the cards to further explore issues of self-esteem, aggression and conflict resolution with the child you are working with. With some creativity, the use of these cards could be endless!


If you would like to know more about How to Spot a Bully or Dr. Martindale, please see her website at Courage to Bloom.


Katherine Prudente, LCAT, RDT <![CDATA[Archive: Say, “Ohm…” Yoga as a Means to Prevent Bullying]]> 2012-12-24T17:57:21Z 2012-12-29T16:45:47Z “Beating the Bully” will be taking a holiday break until January. I’ll be reposting some of the most popular articles from the past year until then. Happy holidays! 

As a yoga practitioner for 10 years I was delighted to read this post about yoga as a prevention tool against student violence. yoga and bullyingRob Schware interviewed Dee Marie, who founded, Calming Kids (CK): Creating a Non-Violent World. CK has run pilot groups to prove that yoga indeed can help young people!

A tenant of yoga that I learned early on in my practice was compassion – compassion for myself, for my fellow yogis in class and for my fellow man. Compassion – at least for me in yoga – comes in the form of understanding that if I cannot get into a certain position (asana) that’s ok, this is where I am today. A lack of compassion can look like forcing yourself into a pretzel-like position to only hurt yourself, or looking at another yogi critically in class wondering, “Why can she do it but I can’t!” I’ve found that without compassion in life or in yoga, the ability to accept where you are and who you are in this moment is difficult.

So how does this help our kids and bullying?

Compassion can teach our kids that we are all different and in different places in our lives; it can increase a sense of empathy and gives our young people the time to be introspective.

Introspection is hard for many of us (myself included!). If we help our young people develop the ability to look inward, know how they feel and self-sooth in a healthy way, the tendency to discharge uncomfortable feelings (like anger, sadness, and fear) in the form of bullying can decrease.

Dee Marie shares her thoughts on why yoga can be helpful to young people, and I couldn’t agree more:

Students of all ages love yoga. It is fun and very relaxing. The CK system teaches children how to balance their lives and how to communicate effectively. Students do not ask for asanas (yoga postures); they do ask for relaxation, concentration or conflict resolution scenarios. It is the lifestyle of yoga that sparks their interest. Yoga is an enjoyable way to learn self-reflection, introspection, and relaxation, which most children greatly appreciate. It helps them to counterbalance their reaction to the busy world they live in.

So grab a mat with your kids, say, “Ohm…” and breathe in. Yoga, does a body and mind good!

Mom and son doing yoga photo available from Shutterstock

Katherine Prudente, LCAT, RDT <![CDATA[Archive: When Bullies are Home for the Holidays Too]]> 2012-12-24T17:57:35Z 2012-12-25T14:00:19Z “Beating the Bully” will be taking a holiday break until January. I’ll be reposting some of the most popular articles from the past year until then. Happy holidays! 

holiday bulliesI hope everyone reading in the United States had a happy and healthy Thanksgiving Holiday last week! When I thought about what to write after taking the holiday week off, I contemplated the numerous discussions I had both in and out of the consulting room regarding people’s varied feelings about being with family during the holidays.

Families bring up powerful feelings and interpersonal dynamics. It’s inevitable that old family dynamics are stirred up around the dinner table and that’s what makes the holidays so difficult, our past is present…AGAIN. Sometimes the bullies of our childhood were not kids on the playground but our siblings, parents, and extended family members.

As a child, you may have felt unable to find allies and keep yourself safe. Perhaps no matter how often you told your parents that your older sibling was being mean, it was dismissed. Or what if you were told to, “Turn the other cheek, it’s your brother/sister. They don’t mean it.” Worse, what if your parent was the aggressor?

Fast forward to 2012 and you find yourself at the dinner table. You and your aggressor get into a disagreement. Suddenly you are transported back 10, 20, or 30 years! You feel attacked, taunted and suddenly ganged up on . You feel same anger, fear and perhaps rage as you did when you were young. How do you protect yourself now?

Take a deep breath. You are no long that child but an adult. It’s extremely helpful that you can recognize you are being bullied in the moment and do not have to tolerate this behavior. When I’ve had clients discuss their concerns about managing destructive family dynamics during the holidays, we’ve come up with game plans ahead of time to keep themselves sane.

Here are some points that have been helpful. Some may seem quite obvious but the obligation to our families can often times make it difficult to make decisions that are in our best interest:

  • If you are away over several nights make arrangements to stay somewhere you feel comfortable Just because your cousin Sue insists you stay with her does not mean you have to!
  • Have a means to get yourself to and from anywhere. Have a car or be familiar with public transportation Often patients feel trapped in uncomfortable situations because they are dependent on family members to bring them places. 
  • No one particularly likes confrontation, but if you find yourself being bullied as an adult by your childhood bullies you may feel able to assert yourself now. Find your version of this statement, “I will not tolerate being treated disrespectfully/inappropriately.” And then leave the area to take a minute to center yourself. Call a friend, or let your partner know that if this happens to check in on you. I recognize this is much easier said than done. You can decide to stay or go once you feel more grounded. This is where having the means to travel independently is important.
  • If seeing family is just too emotionally taxing, consider a day trip (if you live close to your family) as opposed to an overnight trip.
  • If you are going to travel and will stay over night(s), make other plans besides seeing family. Catch up with old friends, visit local attractions.
  • Only visit one holiday a year – you can pick! Go visit family for Thanksgiving, stay home for Christmas.
  • Consider alternative holiday plans – dinner with friends, volunteering, something that will leave you feeling valued.
  • If you do end up having a difficult time with family over the holidays, take some time out for yourself when you return home. Everyone de-stresses differently but find something that is soothing and rejuvenating.
  • Lastly,who says you have to see family? When we free ourselves from the obligation to put ourselves in situations that are emotionally unsafe, we are free to see all the other alternatives. Take a vacation/staycation (a staycation is a vacation in your home town for those who are unfamiliar with the word)!
The holidays bring up so many, often conflicting, feelings. It’s important to exercise self care and recognize that while some people may welcome all the family time, others may find they can’t leave their families soon enough!

Sisters fighting photo available from Shutterstock

Katherine Prudente, LCAT, RDT <![CDATA[Bullying Changes Genes in Children]]> 2012-12-26T23:44:18Z 2012-12-24T17:29:42Z bullying and genesI just posted about the blog’s holiday break but wanted to share one more thought provoking study recently released. New research from the University of Montreal published in the journal of Psychological Medicine shows that a young child’s genes are altered if they have experienced bullying. This study is just one of many released this year further supporting that bullying adversely affects one’s mind and body.

The lead author, Isabelle Ouellet-Morin, and her colleagues found that children who have been bullied had lower levels of cortisol (the stress hormone). In turn, that reduction changed the structure of a gene that regulates serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is responsible for mood regulation, among other things.

While a child who is bullied repeatedly may have higher levels of stress, what this study suggests is that after repeated bullying over the course of 7 years (the study looked at twins, one who was bullied and one who was not and measured cortisol at 5, 10, and 12 years of age) there is a desensitization and the child’s body acclimates to the repeated attacks to their psyche.  The children who were bullied atypically responded to bullying, unlike their non-bullied twin. As Ouellet-Morin stated

The victims were not reacting physiologically to stress…the non-bullied twin showed the normal response, which is secreting the stress hormone while under stress.

While the study did not indicate if there is a decrease of serotonin, my presumption is that there would be and therefore a child may be more inclined to be clinically depressed. This may seem like “common sense” if someone were repeatedly bullied, eventually they would be depressed. Now our research supports our anecdotal knowledge! 

This change in cortisol and serotonin maybe a protective response to unrelenting bullying but leaves our children more susceptible to mental distress like depression. The higher the physiological threshold to bulling the more bullying a victim can “take.”  Yet, this change would also make it difficult for a bullied child  seek out peer or adult support and feel entitled to stand up for themselves. It’s as if the brain becomes hopeless that the bulling will stop and physiologically changes to cope with being victimized. 

The research also suggests that the changes in genetic structure can be reversed through appropriate interactions that support victims. More research is needed to support that claim. The study highlights the necessity for our environments need to change, “…if we make sure the victims are not victimized anymore, or if we give them the proper resources to cope better with the situation and get on with their lives, then we have the possibility of reversing what we are observing right now,” said Ouellet-Morin.

Chromosome image available from Shutterstock

Katherine Prudente, LCAT, RDT <![CDATA[Happy Holidays!]]> 2012-12-26T20:45:39Z 2012-12-24T16:41:08Z happy holidaysI want to wish you and yours a very happy holiday season! “Beating the Bully” will be taking a holiday break until January. I’ll be reposting some of the most popular articles from the past year. I wish everyone a happiness and prosperity as we end 2012 and enter 2013!

Happy New Year hat photo available from Shutterstock

Katherine Prudente, LCAT, RDT <![CDATA[Bullying in the Workplace, Where are the Bystanders?]]> 2012-12-17T05:38:50Z 2012-12-16T18:27:19Z workplace bullyA new Finnish study was released this Thursday indicating that adults who are victims of workplace bullying are more likely to be prescribed antidepressants. The study was released by BMJ. What was particularly striking was that the witnesses of workplace bullying were also adversely affected, ABC news highlighted that the study indicated that

Even witnessing bullying can have health effects, according to the study. Men and women who observed workplace bullying were one and a half to two times as likely to need similar medications, reflecting true, medically confirmed mental problems.

When discussing bullying among young people I stress the role of the bystanders to become upstanders, intervening on the behalf of the victim in a myriad of ways: expressing sympathy towards the victim, standing up to the bully, or seeking adult help. Yet, as we shift our focus to bullying beyond childhood and adolescents, I wonder where are the bystanders?

The study highlighted for me that in adult instances of bullying, bystanders are perhaps more reluctant to intervene due to workplace dynamics and fear of retaliation. In turn, not only do the victims feel isolated and suffer from mental distress but bystanders are in similar positions. How do we proactively address workplace bullying?

Companies, like schools, have to devise proactive responses to workplace bullying and follow through on their delineated protocol when an instance is reported. Furthermore, employees should be educated on the resources available to them: clear protocols of what to do if they are victim and/or bystander of workplace bullying, what HR department intervention would look like, accesses to employee assistance programs in their City and what mental health services are available via their health insurance benefits. Additionally, bystanders should be encouraged to report bullying to the appropriate HR manager without the fear that their confidentiality will be breached. 

As bullying becomes a national focus, I value the attention it is getting beyond the playground. It is evident that there is a pervasive culture of bullying that, unless we address universally, will not end. We have to help and protect our children as well as model for them (even if they are not cognizant of it) how to live bully free.

Workplace bullying photo available from Shutterstock

Katherine Prudente, LCAT, RDT <![CDATA[Bullying or Discipline?]]> 2012-12-07T22:12:53Z 2012-12-07T14:00:44Z discipline or bullying?Two boys at Westwood High School in Mesa, AZ were caught fighting and sent to the Principal’s office. Nothing out of the ordinary so far, right? But how Principal Tim Richards disciplined them is out of the ordinary. The boys were given the option: be suspended or hold hands in the middle of the school campus at lunch time.

The boys choose to hold hands.

What ensued for the boys was about an hour of public humiliation. If you watch the linked news video, you can hear students laughing at them.

Several news reports stated that the boys were being taunted, “Are you gay?” The incident was so humiliating (or effective?) that one of the boys did not go to school for at least 2 days, per news reports.

Yet, many in the school community are praising Principal Richards for his work at the school as a first year principal. Students held a rally later that week to show their support.

So is this bullying? Or innovative and effective disciplining?

I would have to state that although it’s been reported that Principal Richards has made positive and effective change at his school this was not one of those moments. I would have to agree with the criticism that the public humiliation that ensued became overt gay-bashing and sent a message of intolerance to gay and questioning students. Furthermore, by sanctioning “disciplinary bullying,” it perpetuates a culture of bullying within the school community at large.

Bullying is not simply two boys getting into a fist fight, bullying comes in the form of repeated exclusion, taunting, racial/ethnic/gay slurs, and direct manipulation of a targeted person’s relationships to isolate and shame them.

Public humiliation as a means to discipline while in the short term effective I fear has long term consequences. What do you think? If your child was one of the boys would you have been comfortable with this disciplinary action? What if your child witnessed this? What if your child is gay and witnessed this?

Boys fighting photo available from Shutterstock