A focus in September is placed on bullying, and The Means Report is shining a light on the issue which is being called a global health concern by the United Nations and the World Health Organization. To do so Brad Means is joined by Dr. Dale Peeples, a child psychiatrist with the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University.
Brad Means: MCG Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, Dr. Dale Peeples has been kind enough to help take off our segment on bullying, he’s talked about this topic on The Means Report before. Dr. Peeples, thanks for coming back, thanks for the work you do with our kids.
Dr. Dale Peeples: Absolutely, happy to be here.
Brad Means: So, let me read this definition from the CDC about bullying. It’s unwanted, aggressive behavior, you know this, amongst school age children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. A real and perceived power imbalance, so that makes me think it’s always gonna be someone bigger, doing the bullying, someone smaller getting bullied. Is that necessarily true? How do we create that power imbalance?
Dr. Dale Peeples: Right, so with the power imbalance, the real portion would be like you’re saying the one individual’s just physically larger, right? That would be part of it but then you have the perceived, and so that’s really tying into social capital. So, you’re using you’re popularity let’s say to ostracize or you know draw ridicule towards another student, would be more that perceived power that they’re talking about.
Brad Means: What’s the most common type of bullying that you see in your office? Physical or I don’t even know what the right word is, social? What type?
Dr. Dale Peeples: Right, yeah, you do see more of the social and verbal bullying than the physical bullying. You know these things sort of escalate and often times it’s gonna start with the social type before it gets to the physical type.
Brad Means: A lot of times in bullying cases the victim, and the witnesses feel helpless. So, how can you take that first step to get them help if they don’t even think that’s a possibility?
Dr. Dale Peeples: Yeah, so number one, is education. You know identifying two individuals that they are seeing, witnessing, bullying and then kind of figuring out what to do next. When we’re working with students about that next step, what to do there are different approaches one might take. The first thing parents gonna wanna consider is listening to the student and trying to figure out what they’ve tried already. See if anything is working, not working, then talking to the school. Typically, it’s gonna be your next step.
Brad Means: What about in the years, not just since we’ve known each other, and since you’ve been kind enough to share your expertise on The Means Report, but in your entire career. Have you seen, people coming to you for assistance with cases of bullying go up or down, or stay the same?
Dr. Dale Peeples: I do believe, that we are in a little bit of an up cycle and up trend with this.
Brad Means: Why?
Dr. Dale Peeples: I think that, we’re doing a better job of discussing the issue so people are aware and they’re willing to seek help. And, I also think that you know, in the time that I’ve been practicing we’ve also had, you know, really kind of the widespread use of social media, cellphones, which then introduces cyber bullying.
Brad Means: This may not be in your wheelhouse, cause it’s a question about adults. You specialize in children, adolescents, but do you have people come to you, or do you hear about bullying among grown ups? Cause it happens.
Dr. Dale Peeples: It does happen, like you say, clinically, it’s not really the population I’m working with. On that topic, you know, when I was doing a little bit of a literature review before we met. I did see a recent study that was showing, that adults, you know, years and years, decades, away from the bullying, still had worse mental health outcomes when they had experienced bullying as a child. So, these things can stick with us.
Brad Means: You ever get a bully in your office who you can clearly Let me finish, who you can tell, okay, you have a kid – a child in your office who is the aggressor.
Dr. Dale Peeples: Yeah.
Brad Means: And mom and dad are trying to get help.
Dr. Dale Peeples: Yes.
Brad Means: Cause they don’t want their child to be a bully.
Dr. Dale Peeples: Yes.
Brad Means: Have you ever been able to detect pretty soon off the bat that the parents are bullies too, or at least used to be? And can that kinda stuff be inherited?
Dr. Dale Peeples: One, we do worry most about these kids actually who are perpetrating the bullying.
Brad Means: Right
Dr. Dale Peeples: And oftentimes, they themselves are being bullied too. It may or may not be coming from the family, but, usually these kids are exposed to you know, higher levels of aggression and that sort of thing. So, it wouldn’t be a completely unexpected story to find out that perhaps an older sibling, perhaps a parent, was engaging in some bullying-like behavior. It’s not always the case but it can happen, certainly.
Brad Means: It can happen. Do kids age out of bullying?
Dr. Dale Peeples: Well, kids develop better social skills, as they grow up and mature.
Brad Means: It bothers them less?
Dr. Dale Peeples: Well, you see through the developmental cycle, you do see different levels of aggression in different ages. Now that’s not exactly the same thing as bullying, but, you know sometimes kids who have engaged in bullying again they learn, better ways to deal with their problems and issues. They can kind of grow out of it.
Brad Means: The United Nations and the World Health Organization call bullying, the long-lasting effects of bullying a global health concern. Do you see long-lasting effects? Do you see it impacting somebody’s self-esteem, years and years after the original instances occur?
Dr. Dale Peeples: Like I said, we definitely have researched data that suggest that, yes, that is indeed the case. And then, you know clinically, I think, you really can see self-esteem undermined. So, one of the things families really want to do is find areas where a child can excel, where they can be surrounded by a positive peer group. Whether, it’s through their religious community, or turning to athletics, or the arts. You know, if school isn’t giving them the sanctuary finding them another space where they can build some of that self-esteem, I think is really vital.
Brad Means: Can you undo some of the impacts and effects of bullying, by those self-esteem measures you just talked about? Can you get the child, in the house and say, “listen, I don’t care what happened “today, you’re great, I love you.” Can you undo it?
Dr. Dale Peeples: Having that social support makes a world of difference. Yes, I think that’s extremely protective. It might not be the complete solution for every child, but knowing that they got that safe harbor at home, I think makes a world of difference for kids. And also, you know broadening their peer group. You know, having friends stick up and you know when they see bullying, say, hey that’s not right. You know, that can be really helpful too.
Brad Means: Tough to tell a child to switch friends though, you know? Even if their friends are jerks.
Dr. Dale Peeples: It is, it is. You know schools are trying to do a lot in the way of education and about positive social skills, and trying to really change the environment. And, so hopefully kids are picking up on it.
Brad Means: Help us with the social media bullying, when it comes to somebody’s phone where a lot of it happens. Other than taking your child’s phone when they go to sleep, what do you do? And maybe that’s what you recommend, but what do you do?
Dr. Dale Peeples: Right so, a parent’s first impulse when they hear that their child is being bullied over social media probably is to well let’s get rid of this. Let’s get it away it’s gonna protect you. But then the child views that as a punishment
Brad Means: Right.
Dr. Dale Peeples: So, that’s really not the best solution. Now, you’re point about having it out of the room at night, I think that’s just practical.
Brad Means: Well, let me say this, I mean out of the room at night so I can go through it.
Dr. Dale Peeples: Oh
Brad Means: And I can see, what’s happening and who the aggressors are, and then work through it with my child the next day. The problem is, then you’re a spy. Then you’re invading their privacy. I’m trying to figure out a way to do both.
Dr. Dale Peeples: Yeah
Brad Means: To help them without making them mad at me.
Dr. Dale Peeples: Right, you know for the parents who are just introducing cell phones into their child’s lives, I think that strategy, you know, just kind of direct supervision is excellent. If you’re talking about the teenager that’s had their cellphone for five years and then you’re trying to, kind of start investigating now, you’re gonna get a lot of push back.
Brad Means: Sure are.
Dr. Dale Peeples: So, in those instances, you know, you try to also use similar social media accounts as your children. Have them friend you, so you can kind of monitor in that regard. Have an understanding that if there are concerns coming up in that household, then we might have to sit down and kind of review things together. Probably, not, you know, doing it on your own but looking at it with your child might be more appropriate.
Brad Means: You ever prescribe any medications to help kids, either bullies or victims. Any medicine that can help them through it?
Dr. Dale Peeples: You know, there’s not a medication obviously, that’s making any of this go away, but sometimes things can get so severe that you know, a person really begins to have trouble with depression. And then we might be talking about, medications for depression, the anti-depressants can sometimes be used, yes.
Brad Means: Is it ever too late get them in your office?
Dr. Dale Peeples: No, never too late. Never too late to talk to the school about these things either. Starting with the teachers, guidance counselors, a good place to begin, but you know working with a therapist, or a psychiatrist, sometimes is needed.
Brad Means: Did you hear about that University of Tennessee T-shirt?
Dr. Dale Peeples: No, what–
Brad Means: Well this kid, made a T-shirt and supported the University of Tennessee, and it looked like a child. He actually drew, UT, for the University of Tennessee on a piece of paper and pinned it to the shirt. A lot of people at school made fun of him, bullied him. Well the University of Tennessee, made that one of their new T-shirts designs.
Dr. Dale Peeples: Aww
Brad Means: And it’s a huge seller, my question is,
Dr. Dale Peeples: Mm-hmm
Brad Means: Can you shame a bully? Can you say, you know what, you have no power, in this case, not only do you not have no power, but this kid is super popular now, cause he basically designed a T-shirt. Can you shame a bullying, a bully, hold a mirror up to them to make them stop?
Dr. Dale Peeples: Well you know I like the approach you described there because, you really, you have this, you know, entire school system rallying around this one kid.
Brad Means: Yup.
Dr. Dale Peeples: And that, you know, positive social support I think really is the way to go. Shaming could get, bullies to decrease the behavior; however, you know, it could also worsen their mental health outcomes and you know, individuals who are engaging in bullying, they do have high rates of depression, and suicide as well too. So, you know if it could be approached through other means, I think that, yeah, you try to handle it in a way that wasn’t gonna cost them significant social ostracism, if possible.
Brad Means: Right, try to turn the tables on them.
Dr. Dale Peeples: Too much.
Brad Means: Too dramatically. Dr. Dale Peeples, thank you so much for helping us understand bullying and ways to get through it. We appreciate it.
Dr. Dale Peeples: Absolutely, glad to be here.
Brad Means: We always welcome, Dr. Dale Peeples, from MCG.