CHATTANOOGA, TN. (WRCB) - Parents, educators, and students are coming together to find solutions to a growing problem: bullying in our schools. The first step, is knowing what to look for. "Of course, kids disagree and pick on each other, to some degree," said local psychologist and Internet talk-show host, Dr. Susan Hickman.
But, at what point is this behavior no longer innocuous? "The harm is intentional," Dr. Hickman explained. "The person is intending to harm. Whether that's physically or psychologically."
And the behavior is usually repeated. "And the victim does perceive it as being threatening," she continued. "They feel that their safety is threatened. And another piece of it is, there is usually a power differential. The victim may be weaker physically or already socially marginalized or shy."
Even with boys and girls, the Mars-Venus analogy holds true. "Males are more likely to do the shoving," Dr. Hickman said, "to do the physically aggressive things."
Females tend to use psychological warfare. "So, it's very indirect," she said. "So, the gossiping and malicious lies and rumors. And they invoke the peer group and actually do harm. You know, like, 'let's all not like that person.'"
Dr. Hickman says the problem can be made worse when not noticed, or not taken seriously by adults. "From our perspective, we made it through, right? We lived. We, for the most part,feel okay, you know?," she said. "And so, from our perspective, it's hard for us to remember how serious this is for an adolescent. How much it does rock their world."
And if you sense their world is being rocked, find a way to intervene. Especially if the child brings it up. "To rise to the level of them actually saying something means it's very significant to them," said Hickman. "So, never, never, never, discount it. If they say anything, please fully investigate.>
Why is that so important? "Almost a third of child suicides can be attributed to peer victimization," said Hickman. "We need to be paying attention."