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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bullies, Snobs Threaten Kids In Schoolyard Social Jungle

LOS ANGELES -- As sure as new haircuts, outsized jeans and platform shoes, autumn for kids can mean bullies and snobs and another year of misery in the tangled social jungle of school.


According to the National PTA in the United States, 1,000 students are attacked every 30 minutes on school grounds in the United States. Others say fights, teasing, rumors and taunting are much meaner now than many parents recall. Worse, many kids can't count on schools to come to their rescue, said Elin McCoy, author of "What to Do When Kids Are Mean to Your Child."


No one is born knowing how to make friends, and some kids start out in kindergarten by trying threats. One girl McCoy knew warned another that she had better sit next to her at lunch -- or else. Eventually, the more timid girl refused to go to school.


Later, mistreatment could be public exclusion from other kids' birthday parties, having your glasses smashed, being called "Big Butt" or -- especially for girls -- having your best friend become your worst enemy overnight. And then turning back into your best friend a few days later.


Perhaps the worst years, McCoy said, are in middle school, when suddenly active hormones make physical differences painfully obvious and sexual teasing shifts into high gear.


In the movie "Welcome to the Dollhouse," an awkward seventh-grader with Coke-bottle glasses endures taunts of "Wiener Dog" and learns that a tough boy's threat, "I'm going to rape you at 3 o'clock," is actually part of a courtship ritual that means,"Do you want to be my girlfriend?" Her parents tune her out, and her teachers punish her for complaining.


McCoy said many school officials often don't know what to do and still tend to blame the victim, leaving kids with wounds that can last until adulthood.


Parents often struggle with deciding when to intervene and when kids should learn to solve their own problems. In the process, they commonly make one of three mistakes, McCoy said: They either underreact, not taking their children's complaints seriously; they make it appear as if it is the child's fault; or they overreact.


"It's hard to sit there and hear about someone being really nasty to your child without wanting to say, 'I'm going to beat that kid up,'" she said.


It helps if parents can first listen carefully, without asking for information. Sometimes, talking about it is all that's needed. If a child is unhappy and needs help, parents can help come up with responses if the situation occurs again.


"Kids remember to say something if they've practiced it first and if they themselves have thought of the words," McCoy said. Kids can also be encouraged to observe friends, relatives and classmates to see how they handle similar situations.