I wasn't bullied as a kid but I did come across at least one bully during my career. No names need to be mentioned. They know who they are! There were many days when I'd shed a few tears wondering why this was happening to me and in those moments, the bully was definitely winning. As hard as it was, I always tried to remind myself the bully was the one with the big problem, not me.
That's the message the American Academy of Pediatrics wants doctors, teachers and parents to send to kids. The numbers are alarming – almost 30 percent of all kids say they've either been bullied or are doing the bullying. Three out of 10! And the rest have likely witnessed bullying or know someone who has been bullied or who is a bully.
In our piece tonight on the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, you'll meet 13-year-old Daniel Warburton, an 8th grader who has been bullied relentlessly since the 4th grade. He said it started as name calling, with kids calling him names like "faggot," and turned physical on the football field last year when seven of his so-called teammates tackled him to the point of unconsciousness. A teammate who stood up for Daniel ended up being bullied himself and then sucker-punched Daniel as a way of regaining favor with the bullies.
"I know this happens every day and a lot of kids are going through this and me being one of them, it's just really upsetting," he told me.
Bullying isn't just kids being kids, experts say, not in an age of access to guns and violence on television. Consider these sobering statistics: one study found that in two thirds of school shootings, from Columbine to West Paducah, Ky., the shooters were repeatedly bullied. Another study found that 60 percent of kids who were bullies in grades 6 through 9 had at least one criminal conviction by the age 24.
"Pediatricians and frankly all adults need to be much more aware of the signs and even the definition of bullying, what kinds of behaviors constitute bullying and to not just blow it off," said Dr. Joseph Wright of the Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. and one of the lead authors of a new policy statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics with recommendations for pediatricians regarding kids and violence. It is the first time the Academy decided to include a section on bullying.
Part of the message from the Academy is that doctors, parents and teachers shouldn't just focus on the bullied and the ones doing the bullying, but should target the bystanders who witness the bullying to convince them of what I tried to remind myself years ago: that the bully is the troubled one.
At Walter S. Boardman Elementary School in Oceanside, N.Y., students as young as six years old are taught the dangers of bullying behavior and how to stand up to bullies. "When they enter school in the first grade, we begin to help them understand the importance of standing up for what's right and fair and inclusive," said Dr. Karen Siris, the school's principal, who says the program has been underway for at least six or seven years.
Daniel made a video about his bullying experiences as part of a class project which his mom has since posted on YouTube, hoping other kids will get the message.
"You have to be the bigger person, not just to walk away from something, you have to report it, you have to help," Jennifer Warburton, Daniel's mom, told me. "You see somebody being antagonized, humiliated, if you don't do something, you just walk away, then you are part of the problem."
As for Daniel, music has become a form of therapy. He plays several instruments including the tuba, trombone and trumpet and has dreams of studying at The Julliard School someday.
What I found most striking about Daniel is his self-assuredness and self-confidence in light of all the bullying he has endured. He says he knows he's going places and that the bullies are likely to never leave their small town.
Maybe that's the biggest message here.