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Uplifting kids during National Bullying Prevention Month

graphic of three classmates in a circle surrounded by classmates bullying them with devices, words and hand gestures
Ryan Johnson for NPR
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Bullying in school comes in all forms

Bullying is something that can occur in adolescence or in the conference room at work. Relationship experts are trying to address this behavior at its onset during National Bullying Prevention Month.

Bullying is something that can occur in adolescence or in the conference room at work. Relationship experts are trying to address this behavior at its onset during National Bullying Prevention Month this October.

When it comes to adolescent formation, relationship expert, Dr. Wayne Pernell, says there’s often a struggle to portray one’s authentic self. For many students “who” they are may still be a puzzle they're solving.

“Adolescent bullying it’s really about identity," Pernell explained, "There’s a social norming that takes place where kids feel like that have to try really hard to stand out in order to fit in, and if it’s not done 'just right' they are not part of the tribe.”

Pernell calls this the "Queen Bee and Wannabe" scenario. With high social steaks Pernell said it’s easy for jealousy, reactivity and bullying to enter the conversation, targeting differences amongst one another. He cites diverse cultures as an aiming point.

“Kids don’t have really a large sense of beyond self who they are who their social groups are, so I think it’s really important to expose kids to other cultures...some of the things that carry with pretty much everyone is 'Am I worthy?' 'Am I enough?' And for someone that’s been bullied that becomes even stronger," Pernell said.

He adds that stress for children and teens has heightened in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the everchanging life landscape that has come with it. When asked about how children may react to the ongoing controversy that surrounds the discussion of mask mandates, health care and racial disparities Pernell said they will often look at those around them for responses and recommends parents hold open conversations.

“How we handle that in front of our kids, how we choose to move forward with our kids is really important because kids are the barometer of what’s going on in the home," Pernell said.

He goes onto say adults can help curb the onset of bullying by giving kids a sense of contribution to teach them that their actions have an impact, and changing the mindsets or standards that youth have for success. Pernell said an overarching goal to stop bullying is to be able to celebrate peers' accomplishments without jealous and to note one's own successes without gloating.

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