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Bullying & Body Image: Q&A With Deborah Reber, Part 1

One incident has stayed in my mind for well over a decade.

When I was about 11 or 12, living in Brooklyn, my best friend, another friend and I were rollerblading to the park.

My friend and I were holding onto each other, because my rollerblading skills, well, sucked.

As we wobbled to the sidewalk, two kids from my junior high school crossed the street and started cursing at us in Russian. (My family has never used Russian curses in our home, but I could make out a few of the words, and I knew they weren’t good.)

I had this horribly get-me-the-heck-out-of-here feeling in my stomach.

I was petrified and felt like I was shaking all over. (I probably was.)

My friend and I both stopped. I don’t know why we stopped. I think it was because, at least for me, I just could not move.

Then I felt liquid hit the back of my neck, and heard the boys laughing.

More cursing.

Then the same boy spit on the back of my friend’s neck.

Several minutes of more commentary, and they happily went on their way.

If I remember correctly, I avoided that park for a long time.

For this already incredibly insecure and shy child, this one incident had made my little life a bit harder. Dramatic, maybe. But true.

Many kids have these kinds of experiences every day, and I can’t even imagine how they struggle and ache.

According to recent research, overweight kids have the highest risk of being bullied.

No doubt, the obesity epidemic hysteria has just added fuel to the fire.

(Just the other day, the amazing Dr. Katja Rowell wrote an excellent editorial in response to a disturbing “no-sweets” policy at a St. Paul school district; see her blog post about it, too.)

I’m honored to present my interview with Debbie Reber, an author, teen and tween advocate and empowerment expert for girls and women. Debbie has written the book Chill: Stress-Reducing Techniques for a More Balanced, Peaceful You and writes a fantastic blog for girls and young women called Smart Girls Know.

Below, Debbie talks about what kids and parents can do when it comes to bullying and shares her favorite stress-free strategy.

In part two, tomorrow, she talks about positive body image and media literacy.

Q: Today, many kids are being bullied, especially for their weight or size, which can cause devastating consequences, like disordered eating, depression and low self-esteem. What can parents do if their child is being bullied?

A: First of all, it’s important that parents find ways to stay truly tuned in to their child so they know when something harmful is happening to him or her – this is especially true because oftentimes children are reluctant to discuss the bullying out of a sense of shame, embarrassment, or fear the parent will take action that will make the bullying worse.

If parents do discover bullying is happening at school, they should absolutely share their concerns with the school administration. Most schools have policies in place for dealing with bullying, so give the school a chance to deal with the issue in the way they know how, while continuing to check-in with both your child and the school to make sure progress is being made.

If the bullying is happening somewhere else, talk to the other child’s parents about the situation. This can be very tricky, so think about how you would want to be approached were your child bullying someone else.

If you come to the conversation with a spirit of problem-solving and open-mindedness, you’re more likely to be able to work with the other parent to come up with a strategy for dealing with it.

Of course, while all of this is going on, be sure to let your child know that you are there for him or her, remind them that being the target of bullies is not their fault, and give him or her strategies for coping.

Q: What can kids do if they’re being bullied?

A: When children are being bullied, what they need more than anything is a support system so they know they don’t have to go through this alone. Unfortunately, many kids are so worried about retaliation that they keep quiet, resulting in the continuation or even escalation of the bullying.

The best thing a child can do is confide in a trusted adult – a parent or guidance counselor or teacher will help a child come up with a plan for handling the bullying, both in the moment, and long-term.

In those moments when the bullying is actually occurring, whether it’s physical, emotional, or virtual, the best bet is for the child to ignore the behavior and remove him or herself from the situation. Any retaliation will usually result in an escalation of the situation.

Q: You’ve written a book called Chill: Stress-Reducing Techniques for a More Balanced, Peaceful You that helps teen girls learn how to de-stress. Can you share a few of your favorite ways everyone can cope with stress?

A: There are so many different strategies for reducing stress that can benefit teen girls, from practical ones like managing time or getting organized to creative ones like journaling.

My favorite strategy, though, is putting things in perspective, which basically involves examining the stressor through new eyes.

Sometimes this means reminding ourselves that we’ve been through similarly stressful situations in the past and survived and therefore we’ll survive this one.

Sometimes it means looking at the big picture of what’s happening in the world and then considering the gravity of our personal situation through this lens.

What I love most about getting perspective is that it works for most stressors and it is completely within our control. We can make the decision to think about what’s going on differently and it will almost automatically change our emotional, or stressful, response to it.

Thank you, Debbie! Stay tuned for part two tomorrow.

Do you have experience with bullying? Has bullying affected your body image? How do you suggest kids or parents deal with bullying?

Bullying & Body Image: Q&A With Deborah Reber, Part 1

Margarita Tartakovsky, MS

Margarita is an associate editor at She writes about everything from taking compassionate care of yourself at any weight, shape, and size, to coping healthfully with difficult emotions. Her goal is to give readers practical, empowering tips to better their lives, and to remind you that whatever you're struggling with, you're never, ever alone.

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APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2011). Bullying & Body Image: Q&A With Deborah Reber, Part 1. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 19, 2019, from


Last updated: 11 Jan 2011
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