Bullying feeds cycle of violence

SuEllen Fried spokes at a UMKC conference on hate crimes. Children bullying others are engaging in child abuse, says national bullying expert SuEllen Fried.

For victims and society, she said, “(bullying) starts with pain, it turns to rage and it becomes revenge and it goes on for centuries and generations.”

Fried, who has written several books, spoke Monday at a hate crime conference at UMKC.

She became involved in the subject in the 1990s after her adult daughter befriended a 10-year-old girl dying of cancer, she said. The girl was excited to return to school but told them she feared recess.

That was because other children would tear the wig she wore off her head and laugh at her. As she dealt with how to die, she had to deal with that.

Fried talked about the scope of the problem.

  • In two thirds of the 37 school shootings since 1974, the attackers felt bullied, persecuted, attacked or injured.
  • From 1980 to 1997, the suicide rate for students ages 10-to-14 increased by 109 percent.
  • Almost two thirds of 8-to-11 year olds say bullying and teasing happen at school.
  • Studies say up to 5.7 million children are involved in bullying as either target or bully or both.
  • About 180,000 children stay home from school every day in fear of what will happen at school or on the buses.

She noted a study in which researchers had children identify bullies in the third grade.

They repeated that in 12th grade and the same children were chosen as bullies.

A decade later, researchers found that one fourth of the bullies had criminal records.

“Why wouldn’t we start working with these kids at earlier ages?” Fried asked.

She identified types of bullying: physical, sexual, words, emotional, isolation and cyber bullying.

“Cyber bullying has taken bullying to an unimaginable level of cruelty,” she said.

Anonymous attackers make up stories and spread them, “and all the sudden you become a pariah.”

Up until two years ago, children said sexual bullying was the worst kind. Now it is divided between that and cyber bullying.

“What causes (all bullying) is there are people who get pleasure out of causing pain,” Fried said.

Girl bullying tends to be more vicious, with cliques attacking a girl who is often part of their group.

“When boys are bullying they are in your face, when girls are bullying they are behind your back,” she said.

“It was the boys who were causing the shootings; it was the girls who were causing the suicides.”

Parents should delicately ask their children about bullying, she said, maybe bring up the issue and ask if the children know of it happening to anyone else.

“Then ask them if by any chance they have experienced these things,” she said. Then ask, “Is there something we can do as parents?”

The bullying may be happening because of troubles at home or emotional problems and empathy may lead to a solution, she said.

It may take society years or more but real progress is possible, she said.

Smoking is way down now, and seatbelt use is way up. Neither of those happened quickly, she said, and younger generations were key to making them happen.

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