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Darien psychologist believes bullying can be thwarted with collective approach

Published 3:57 pm, Saturday, February 2, 2013
  • Dr. Christopher M. Bogart, executive director of The Southfield Center for Development, gave a talk Jan. 15 titled "Bullying: Recent Trends and Solutions." He emphasized that it takes a community efforts to bring the problem of bullying under control. Photo by Jarret Liotta / For the Darien News Photo: Contributed Photo
    Dr. Christopher M. Bogart, executive director of The Southfield Center for Development, gave a talk Jan. 15 titled "Bullying: Recent Trends and Solutions." He emphasized that it takes a community efforts to bring the problem of bullying under control. Photo by Jarret Liotta / For the Darien News Photo: Contributed Photo

 

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It takes a village to thwart the damaging effects of bullying, according to Christopher M. Bogart, executive director of the Southfield Center for Development at 85 Old Kings Highway N.

Bogart, a licensed clinical psychologist and founder of the center, recently spoke to a small group of parents and professionals, outlining what constitutes bullying, sharing research and statistics, and offering some practical solutions on how to assuage it. While most states, including Connecticut, now have laws against bullying in schools, Bogart said an ongoing concerted effort is required to keep the attention on the policies after they're implemented, and to teach all kids about the relevant role they play in helping stop it.

Bogart said research shows that a bully's peers -- the "bystanders" -- have the potential for the largest impact on the behavior.

"When you train the bystanders with how to really deal with bullying situations, that's when you really see a dramatic drop in bullying situations," he said. "When you talk about interventions, it seems to be the theory that they have the greatest level of effectiveness."

Unfortunately, he said, while 85 percent of all bullying events are witnessed by bystanders, only 13 percent of them intervene, with girls doing so five times more often than boys.

"Boys are notoriously poor at stepping in and sticking up for the person being bullied," said Bogart, whose center has more than 20 practitioners working with learning, emotional, behavioral and medical issues that affect children.

Reasons for this may include a fear of being hurt or being bullied themselves, a reticence to break what Bogart called "an invisible code of silence," or just not knowing what to do in those situations.

In order to make children "responsible bystanders," he said, "The critical piece to it is to intervene and educate early and often."

He said "circle time" sharing is something that should continue through high school, with students regularly given a place to be on equal footing with classmates, to role play and share their feelings and experiences.

He said there was a significant power in a peer pointing out to a bullying student, " `That really isn't very cool. I don't think you should do that.' "

Contrary to myth, Bogart said, bullying is rooted not in anger, but contempt -- a learned behavior linked to a sense of entitlement. "Their empathy skills are on the lower end of the continuum," he said.

Another myth is that some schools don't experience bullying, but research has found this is never the case. In surveys, while teachers will routinely report low or no bullying in their schools, students will share high numbers of incidents.

Bogart said parents play a key role in supporting their children who've been bullied, emphasizing that they are not at fault and using positive messages to help them maintain healthy levels of self-esteem. Most importantly, he said, parents must model the right behaviors, for regardless of what they're told, children will learn from what they observe.

"I thought it was fabulous," one Darien parent, who declined to give her name, said of Bogart's talk. "I thought he hit on fundamentally key points ... that school districts need to implement, that families need to implement."

"Collaboration is critical," Bogart said, suggesting changes begin with making local parent-teacher groups aware, and rallying support.

"If we all work together on it, it's something that can be dramatically brought down to relatively insignificant levels," he said. "I know it takes a lot more time and money to do what I'm talking about, but the impact in terms of what it does to a child to not do this seems like it's worth it."

Jarret Liotta is a freelance writer.