Ask The Doctor

Bullying Can Leave Emotional Scars

Dear Dr. Garner,

While I am glad the summer is almost here, I am very worried about the camp that my son attends.

Toward the end of last summer, some boys started picking on him. First, it was verbal taunts and then it turned into physical threats and assault. I spoke with the camp counselor and to the boys’ parents. The counselor and the parents assure me that everything is under control and there will be no bullying this summer.

Is there anything that you think I should be doing? I told my husband we will press charges if my son is bullied again this year.

Tired of bullies in Brooklyn


Dear Bullied,

I was discussing this topic with good friends and loyal Tablet readers, the Grisafis and the Carneseccas. I look forward to our annual trip to Manchester this summer.

Assaults and harassment tend to be associated with serious incidents. Bullying tends to accumulate with many small incidents over a long period of time. Each incident on its own is usually not very significant. However, when put together, they form a terrible effect.

Harmful Effects
Bullying shatters self-confidence. It also causes isolation. It can cause irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), exhaustion and frequent illnesses such as the flu. It basically lowers the body’s immune system in response to infections.

Bullying is a type of aggression in which one or more children (and adults do it too) repeatedly intimidate or harm a victim who is unable to defend himself. Among children, it can be a combination of physical, (hitting and kicking), verbal (teasing and name-calling) and social (rumors are spread about a child) assaults. And when the bullying happens through technology, it’s called cyber-bullying.

Aside from the illnesses listed above, other effects can include mental health problems, poor performance at school, substance abuse and violence. A child may not want to discuss being bullied due to shame or embarrassment.

Some of the signs that a child is being bullied are:

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Headaches
  • Stomachaches
  • Poor school performance
  • Low self-esteem
  • Certain behaviors such as running away from home.

The best thing to do is to encourage your child to discuss the problem. Learn about the situation. Ask your child to describe what happens and what type of bullying occurs as well as who is involved. Also teach your child how to respond. It is not a good idea to promote retaliation against a bully. Instead, your child might tell the bully to leave him or her alone and walk away from the bully or bullies. You can also ask a teacher or counselor for help.

Boost your child’s confidence. Encourage him to make friends and to emphasize his strengths and talents.

It is important to contact the appropriate authorities when bullying occurs. Either the director of the camp or counselor should be notified at once. I am glad you already have had discussions with this person prior to your child attending the camp. In extreme cases, it may be necessary to take legal action to disrupt the bullying. This will make your camp safer for all children. Above all, do not be shy about investigating this and acting upon it as bullying can leave tremendous emotional scars on your child.

Remember once again that a bully’s action can include not only hitting and shoving, but also verbal threats including name-calling, racial slurs and insults, demands for money or property. A form of bullying that may not be as obvious to detect may include isolating a child, humiliating him in front of friends, manipulating friends and relationships or posting hurtful comments on social media.

And it’s not just boys who get bullied. Girls get bullied too. Typically, boys are more physical while girls bully in round about ways. I thank you for your question and I hope you stay on top of this situation.

Dr. Garner is a Fidelis Care provider who is affiliated with New York Methodist Hospital, Park Slope. He also hosts “Ask the Doctor” on NET TV, Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on Time Warner Channel 97, Cablevision Channel 30 and Verizon FiOS on Demand.

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