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What Makes a Child a Bully?

April 27, 2012

RICHMOND, Va. – From the Cartoon Network to the recent release of the documentary "Bully," the issue of bullying is in the national spotlight, with plenty of attention being paid here in Virginia.

Alden Ramsey, a clinical psychologist in Richmond, says to prevent bullying, people must first understand and acknowledge where the behavior is coming from. In the case of the bully, she explains, it is very rare that children are born with a lack of empathy. Typically, it is learned in the home, she says.

"A way of communicating through intimidation is usually learned through modeling, especially with children. Parents and their marriage, their communication; it's usually learned through the communication of the parent."

Ramsey adds it can be very tricky for teachers and school officials to reach out to the parents of a bully, because most parents don't want to admit that their child is behaving this way, or that their own behavior could be contributing to the problem. She says it's important that teachers are trained in what to look for in terms of behavior, and to teach empathy in the school environment.

Charlotte Hayer is a member of the "Safe Schools, Civil Schools Training Cadre," and vice president of the Richmond Education Association (VEA). She says training is provided in school districts around the state to help school workers deal with children who bully others.

"Lessons that 'teach the teacher' how to teach the children about recognizing the behaviors that they are carrying out, how it makes others feel, how they should react to certain situations."

Another component, says Hayer, is giving the bully the hope and knowledge that they can change their actions. And for children who are being bullied, she says, they work to provide a safe environment, so that kids feel they can report it when it happens.

Sarah Brady is a junior at Graham High School, Bluefield, who started an anti-bullying campaign called "Be Golden" with a few of her classmates. The idea, she explains, is to follow the "Golden Rule," and do unto others as you would have done to you.

"I definitely would stress how important it is to be kind. You don't know what people are going through – everyone has problems, a life behind what you see at school, what you see on the computer – and it's just so important to reach out to everyone, no matter what."

Brady's group created t-shirts and bracelets with the Golden Rule message. She says proceeds from their sales will be distributed to a suicide prevention charity and anti-bullying group.

Monique Coppola, Public News Service - VA