Some kids think it's cool to pick on others who seem somehow different from themselves. They hurt their targets with a variety of weapons from fists and name calling to ridicule and gossip. Bullies take pleasure in someone else's pain. Internet technology has led to new forms of bullying, but it's still possible to end the cruel practice.
Fifteen-year old Brigitte Berman knows all about bullying.
"There is the physical bullying, when you physically hurt somebody like punching, kicking [or] something that's actually causing bodily harm," she said.
"Verbal bullying is when you verbally say something to someone like, 'you're fat,' 'you're ugly,' [or] anything rude. Non-verbal bullying is things like gossiping and shunning people. Cyber-bullying is using basically technology to bully someone," she said.
Berman has just published her first novel, "Dorie Witt's Guide to Surviving Bullies". Although the book is fictional, it was inspired by Berman's personal experience.
"My sister has some troubles with cyber bullying this past summer," she said. She added, "It was very difficult for her."
Witnesses to bullying should get involved
Before writing her story, Berman conducted an online survey.
"I found out that a lot of people realized there was bullying going on and annoyingly they became part of the problem as well as being victims," Berman said.
The novel has a message for bystanders, who Berman says can play a role in stopping bullies. She said anyone who sees bullying should act as a witness, resister and defender.
"There is no such thing as an innocent bystander. If you are watching bullying happen, you are obliged to do something whether it will be stepping in and say, 'guys, come on we're too old for this,'" she said. Or, she recommended that, "if you don't feel comfortable stepping in during a situation, either talk to the victim afterwards or get a trusted adult involved."
Adults should hold bullies accountable
Getting a trusted adult to intervene is vital, says psychologist Barbara Coloroso, author of "The Bully, the Bullied and the Bystander." Cruel, hurtful behavior, she adds, should not be considered normal among kids and teenagers.
"We have to take very seriously when kids call one another ugly names related to their race, religion or gender or physical or mental ability or their economic status," Coloroso said.
When adults, parents or teachers catch bullies and complicit bystanders in the act, Coloroso said they must hold them accountable.
"I don't demand [that they say], 'I'm sorry, I'm not going to do it again,'" she said. "[I tell them,] 'I want you to fix what you did. You spread an ugly rumor on the Internet, although you can't fully repair that, you've got to make an attempt to do that.' Figure out how you are going to keep it from happening again and heal with the person you've harmed," Coloroso said.
Coloroso added that adults should realize that bullying today is different than what they dealt with when they were children.
"Kids used to be targeted at schools, now are getting it 24/7," she said. In the middle of the night, Coloroso said, at, "two in the morning, they are getting an ugly rumor spreading about them. The impact is devastating," she said.
Reading the warning signs
Victims usually don't speak up due to fear and shame. Coloroso says that's why parents need to learn to read subtle clues that may show their child is being bullied.
Coloroso said signs to look for include, "is your son or daughter doing something out of the ordinary? They always like to go to school, now they don't want to." More clues, she said are, "they have stomachache and headache, but not on holidays and breaks from schools. They have a significant drop in their grades suddenly. They have torn or missing clothing."
Tolerance is a key to stopping bullying
To prevent bullying, Coloroso suggests teaching kids how to be more tolerant and accepting of differences.
"We have to have programs," she said. "I'm not talking about anti-bullying programs, but programs in place that help nurturing in our kids that sense of connectedness as well as their uniqueness."
Without tolerance, Coloroso said, "we're laying the ground work for hate crimes and genocide. Genocide is the ultimate expression of treating another group of human beings with such utter contempt and making them into less than human and then [it makes it okay to] destroy them without shame or compassion," she said.
Fortunately, Barbara Coloroso says kids who learn tolerance and empathy early on are less likely to become bullies as teens and adults.