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Julie Fenn - Mental Health Counselor

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Julie Fenn: Mental Health Counselor

Through her work as a counselor with Child & Family Services—one of western New York’s oldest human service agencies—Julie Fenn has a lot of experience with the complex subject of bullying. Below she shares some thoughts on the issue.

Define bullying. How is it different from harassment?

It’s not different from harassment. Bullying is aggressive. There’s usually an imbalance of power. They used to define bullying as harassment over time, but they’ve taken that outof the definition because even one incidence can really be harmful. Bullying can take place in the home, or between friends. It’s peer abuse. Emotional, physical, verbal abuse between peers.

How big a problem is bullying for young people today, and why?

A 2009 study by the National Association of School Psychologists showed that one out of four kids is abused—mentally, physically, verbally or electronically—by another youth. And one out of four kids in the same study admitted to being a bully, or participating in some form of bullying. Forty-three percent of kids fear being harassed in the bathroom at school. That’s almost half of all kids. The biggest places they fear are the bathroom, the gym, the cafeteria, the bus, and school hallways. 160,000 kids miss school every day in the US because they fear being bullied.

What can a kid do if he or she is being bullied?

This is what’s tough. You should not tell them to ignore it. That’s like telling a person who’s in a domestic violence situation to suck it up and ignore it. They need to tell a trusted adult. And if they don’t get results from that, they need to tell another trusted adult. That’s what’s important, because a lot of times students feel that their complaint won’t be acted upon, number one; it’s embarrassing to report, number two; and three, they fear it can bring on more bullying if reported. So there are so many reasons why it goes unreported. It’s embarrassing to go up to someone and say “I’m being made fun of.” It’s very difficult for a child to do. Which is why, by the time a child reaches out, it needs to be taken very seriously because normally they’ve done everything they can by themselves at that point.

What can parents do if their child is being bullied?

Parents, and all trusted adults, need to keep it confidential. The child may fear that they’ll bring on more bullying because they’ve ratted. But they also need to trust that it will be acted on in some way. In a school setting, start with the teacher. If that doesn’t work, the assistant principal, principal, all the way to the superintendent until you get the results you need. Social workers and school counselors should be involved from day one. A website focused on the bullying problem,, has many resources for parents.

What can be done to help the kids who are bullies?

When we go into the schools, we work on teaching empathy and tolerance because we find that a lot of the bullies simply haven’t developed those qualities. Another part of the problem is that bystanders—the kids who are witnesses to bullying—need to be assertive. Not agressive, but be able to say: “That’s not cool. We’re not gonna take that.”

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