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Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Insidious Result of Bullying - Will Kids Drink to Escape?

I was talking to my son in the car this morning about bullying and all the media coverage it's been getting, and in all of his 15 year-old wisdom he said, "I don't think bullying in school really exists, I've never seen it." Wow.

I researched bullying and what affect it has on early alcohol use.While there is some research on this topic, I couldn't find anything that linked the two decisively. But it makes sense that bullying may well cause kids to try and escape through alcohol and drugs. It's documented that kids going through a divorce, death of a parent and other major family trauma, may try to escape into alcohol Anything that makes them feel better is a possibility.

I was bullied in elementary school and what was then called junior high. As the new kid in a new school and a new town, there was one girl in particular who tormented me. In those days you could fight back, and I did. I won a fight with her in front of a crowd of 4th graders behind the school. She never bothered me again, but even today the thought of that experience makes me shudder.

I've also had work issues with adult bullying as I'm sure many of us have. In my experience, male bosses are the worst offenders, and the research data bears this out. While sexual harassment is a prosecutable offense, there are no laws in this nation that allow those who are bullied much recourse unless you can link it to discrimination.

One of the common responses to office bullying - although certainly not the answer - is to have drinks with co-workers. The alcohol can have a calming affect and in a restaurant or bar enables you to talk about how upset you are with less reservation than at the office. But venting is a short term fix. All of the published information suggests going to your supervisor, reporting it to HR, etc. But in my experience, it doesn't really do much and confronting them only makes it worse. The only thing you really can do is get another job. The bully won't stop his behavior, but at least it won't be you he's tormenting.

What's my point? Adults know what bullying and harassment are and even though it can make them feel small and inadequate, cause physical illness, sleeplessness, depression and more, at least they get that what's happening is wrong. But a 12 year-old who is shoved in a locker, screamed or yelled at, or the much more insidious tactics of snide remarks, public humiliation, underhanded comments, notes, emails, Facebook posts, etc. doesn't  understand what's happening. All she knows is she feels terrible and wants more than anything to just make it stop. That's when alcohol use can start.

Those of us parents who are talking to our kids about alcohol and drug use, should also be talking to and monitoring our children and their friends for potential bullying. Think about it. While suicide is rare, even though much publicized, misery is not.

Adolescents are loathe to go to their parents with anything that may get them in trouble with another kid at school. Part of talking to our kids about bullying, similar to conversations about alcohol and drugs, is to let them know they can tell you anything without fear of repercussions. It's a hard place to be with your child, when you know that someone is hurting them, and you don't immediately take action if they ask you not too. But gaining your adolescents' confidence is worth it.

Whatever works for you to protect your kids is the right approach. We need to stop the bullying now. Remember the playground and school bullies of today, are tomorrow's parents who will be bullying their kids and spouses. They're also the next generation of workplace monsters.

Many states have introduced anti-bullying legislation and it's stalled because corporations are afraid of getting sued as are schools. Well it looks like the schools are finally going to do something. Let's make sure companies to do too.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting, definitely going to subscribe! See you on my reader.
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