3 Simple Questions to ask about Bullying

25 Dec
Anti Bully


I punched a boy in the face when I was in the 5th grade. The principle made me sit in his office for the rest of the afternoon.   This was my punishment for trying to stop bullying at my elementary school.  I remember the principle teaching me adult concepts–concepts, that my little eyes totally glazed over.

All I knew was the following: Some punk-ass kid just called my friend fat and smelly.

Yeah, she was fat. And smelly, too.  But, NO ONE says that aloud in an attempt to hurt her feelings.   That was the only concept I really cared about.

Then came high school, repeated lesions of “conflict resolution” were recited to us ad nauseum.   Like a little good girl, I listened.   But have always rolled my eyes at such things.  Then came medical residency training: a young attending called me “A bad physician,” and said that I was “careless” in front of the entire 2nd floor.    My senior resident, told me to just be quiet and nod my head in agreement.   But, my instinct was to say,  “I do not want to be a bad doctor, so teach me how to be a better resident.”  I said this with my most  honest and sincere desire to improve my clinical skills.

I was looking for an honest critique and tools to improve myself.  But, as my senior resident said—the norm, in situations such as this is just  to “be quiet” &  let the person in authority rant, and you move on.   This was the status-quo, my senior resident taught me.  Just don’t take it personally, he guided me.    This is the norm, I thought to myself,  if ones wants to be among the status-quo.   Is this the adult version of “conflict resolution?”  Do we just now let bullies in positions of authority just rant?

I thought back to the little guy I punched back in the day.   From childhood to adulthood we are given tools by our authority figures that help us  navigate “Conflict Resolution.”      But, why are we not provided with tools  for conflict prevention?    As a family medicine physician, prevention is an essential part of my profession.    Yet, even my training as a family medicine physician has not always  been rooted in that concept.  I am a very analytical person, but somewhere in the bottom of “my gut” this pedagogy just does not seem correct.

I was reading the Journal of Pediatrics, from which, two leading studies regarding bullying and food allergies stand out in my mind.  In one, Dr. Shemesh from the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York and his colleagues surveyed 251 kids who were seen at an allergy clinic with their parents. The children were all between age 8 and 17 and with a diagnosed food allergy.

“Just over 45 percent of them said they’d been bullied or harassed for any reason, and 32 percent reported being bullied because of their allergy in particular.”

Studies suggest between one in ten and one in three of all kids and teens are bullied.  The kids in the study were mostly white and well-off, this group is less likely to experience bullying.  So, then bullying, in general,  may be more common in poorer and minority children. 

We cannot encourage our young children to master their punching skills and become more like Mike Tyson.  Nor can we ask our children to “just be quite and look the other way.”  We must not only focus on conflict resolution, the conversation needs to switch to conflict prevention.  The lead authors of this study and the many pediatricians that I work with collectively stress that “we need to get the dialogue started with our children.”

Similar to Yael Cohen’s non-profit  Fuck Cancer which is a platform that  urges teenagers to ask their parents about cancer screening, we need to embrace that same message—Fuck Bullying!  We just need to get the conversation started with our children.    Some of us will be shy to use the F word, yes.  And I am not requesting that you use the F word with your children.  Pay attention, it’s a beautiful concept 🙂

A tool that I have used very consistently in my clinical experience is made up of three simple questions that I ask my adolescent patients.   Our children need their parents to be their allies in their lives.


So, Ask your kids these questions on a biweekly basis: 

1.  Do you feel down, depressed, or hopeless?

2.  Do you have little interest in doing things you like?

3.   Is someone bullying you in school right now?

As parents you can help your kids feel strong, without punching like Tyson or having them feel like they need to turn the other cheek.


One Response to “3 Simple Questions to ask about Bullying”

  1. Mell December 27, 2012 at 11:37 am #

    These things do need to be discussed. But I think it needs to be covered in a way that does not create hyper-sensitive kids who in turn think anything said to them that they perceive as “mean” to be bullying. My sons elementary school had an anti- bullying assembly a few weeks ago where they were told they would be suspended if they bullied anyone. Later at recess, put two sensitive boys and a game of kickball together, and one telling the other to hurry up and kick the ball already results in “I’m telling because you’re bullying me” and the other in tears the rest of the day, convinced he will be suspended. I think the definition of bullying is needs to be taught accurately. True bullying is repeated, targeted attacks meant to belittle, demean, harm or intimidate an individual. I believe that is what needs to be emphasized and understood.

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