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Psychologist offers advice on bullying

By : Nadeska Alexis

There is always a jockeying to be on top, since there is no advantage to being on the bottom, clinical psychologist Joel Haber ’79 explained during a Homecoming weekend lecture on campus. The alumnus talked about the dynamics of bullying and his new book, Bullyproof Your Child for Life.

Bullying is a phenomenon that begins as early as age 3, Haber said. In the first few minutes of school, kids naturally scope out and connect with each other, and those who linger become the initial target of bullies.

“It usually has to do with an emotional vulnerability that makes them a target,” Haber said, “something that keeps them out of the social communication loop.”

The goal of bullying is to gain power and dominance, and the problem has become more difficult to control. That’s because the kids who usually bully now are often popular, smarter than average, seemingly likable and very manipulative.

“You have to have good social skills to be a bully,” Haber said, “because you have to make it look like it’s socially acceptable.”

In addition to physical, verbal and exclusionary bullying, there is an emerging trend in Internet bullying.

“The cyber bullying problem is growing and creating a new generation of kids who were never bullying before,” Haber said. “It’s so easy to bully online. It’s impersonal, quicker and anyone can have power on the Internet.”

Although Haber said it’s impossible to stop bullying altogether, he offered suggestions for controlling the problem. They include encouraging peers to stand up for one another, and teaching children how to react to various situations. “We can’t fix the problem,” he said. “We can only work to have the community make it better by having kids learn skills to try to help themselves.”

Carl Williams ’82 said one of his sons has faced some of the scenarios Haber discussed.

“I thought his solutions were extremely helpful,” Williams said. “Although we’ve already taught some of them to our son, I never thought there was actually a science to it.”

Haber warns that parents should be careful to allow children to handle some problems on their own. “When parents jump in, it’s actually diminishing the child’s power,” he said. “We have to help them deal with it, instead of taking away their power and making them feel more hopeless.”

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Last Updated: 10/14/08