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Bullying becoming common problem

ALBANY, Ga. -- It's a problem most parents are bound to face eventually.

A report released in May by the National Center for Education Statistics indicated that some 8.1 million students in the United States aged 12-18 reported they were bullied in school during the 2006-07 academic year. About 940,000, or 3.7 percent, reported cyber-bullying -- or bullying through electronic media.

And the children in Southwest Georgia are not immune.

"The most common problems for bullying tend to surface in the middle-school timeframe," said Dr. Angela Dawson, a psychiatrist with Phoebe Behavioral Health. "At that age, children are developing as individuals and they are pulling away from their parents.

"It's tough to be bullied when a child is trying to develop their sense of self. Bullying leaves a person feeling diminished."

It's a process that leaves scars during, for most bullying victims, what is a vulnerable time, said Dawson, who specializes in child development.

"(The problem can escalate) as they get older, but the greatest danger tends to be during middle school," she said. "And they are less likely to tell adults."

The impacts are also felt at home as well for both parents and siblings. For the parents, the circumstances depend on the parents' reaction to the situation and which one the child will open up to.

"It's gonna cause division," Dawson said. "You have two parents that aren't gonna agree on how to handle things.

"(When this division happens), the child will think that they shouldn't have gone to them. The division is usually child to parent or parent to parent."

The impact on siblings can also vary, Dawson said.

"Many times, siblings will often bond with an older brother or sister that was bullied, or it will cause fights the parents can't take on," she said.

Due to the impact bullying can have on a victim, many extended family members, such as grandparents or aunts and uncles, can be affected.

"Victims begin to change," Dawson said. "Many become angry. Anger is contagious and can have a ripple effect."

Dawson said its important to understand the origin of bullying.

"There is an underlying biological reason for aggression. There is a need to establish a pecking order, or a hierarchy," Dawson said.

"Bullying is not an issue of saying (the bullier) is better than (the victim) is."

In fact, because of this, a type of bullying that is common is between siblings.

"That goes unchecked because parents think: 'Kids always fight,'" Dawson said. "Bullying is often not reported, so it escalates."

The end result is rage with no outlet. Children that are bullied will feel badly about themselves, especially in a situation in which the bullying happens in front of a group of bystanders that either laugh or refuse to intervene.

"If the child is gentle, (the resulting aggression) may come out in the wrong ways," Dawson.

Some of the signs parents should look out for, Dawson said, include depression, anxiety, behavioral or anger problems at home or at school and a decline in academic performance.

These are some of the things that might potentially lead to much bigger problems, such as the April 20, 1999, shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo.

The shooters in that incident, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, were bullying victims themselves.

"The big problem is that you have kids that are pulling away," Dawson said. "They will make comments that are dark and troubling. Their grades will go down. They will seem to have a single interest in movies and video games with violent content.

"They will start showing personality changes."

Dawson added that children in this situation can also be uncooperative when it comes to working with a therapist or taking their prescribed medications.

"Parents are busy, but they can't be too busy when they are showing these signs," she said. "Also, when you suspect substance abuse, assume it.

"Make your child go to a therapist and keep at it. If they won't talk to one therapist, send them to another."

Perhaps the most important tip Dawson was able to make to parents was to force their children to talk to them.

"Don't give up," she said. "Sit them down. Don't shout, and talk slowly. If they won't talk to you, get them to talk to someone."

Dawson also suggests to keep them, or get them into, positive experiences or outlets -- such as after-school social activities.

"Allow them to channel that energy and get them in tasks that make them feel good about themselves," she said. "Spend time with them and not so much money.

"There is too much money spent and not enough time."