Bullying Is Far More Common Than We Realize, Dr. Harris Straytner Says

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Some horrifying stories of bullying have been in the headlines this week, from allegations that a school district in Orange County looked the other way as students were subjected to anti-Semitic harassment, to claims that Miami Dolphins guard Richie Incognito subjected teammate Jonathan Martin to racially-charged taunts.

Clinical psychologist Dr. Harris Straytner joined CBS 2’s Cindy Hsu Saturday morning with some advice on how to recognize signs of bullying, and bring it to a stop.

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He told Hsu that bullying is far more common than we may realize.

“Much more common than we give it credit for being, and that has a lot to do with social media and anonymity. Bullies are cowards and they love anonymity, but at the same time, the inside crowd may know who’s doing it because bullies are looking for social recognition,” Straytner said. “They want to be the cool kid; they want to be the cool adult; the insider; the guy who gets over.”

There are also numerous misconceptions about bullying, particularly when it comes to the bullies’ own motivations and psychological state.

“A lot of people think that bullies are youngsters who necessarily have very low self-esteem. That’s not true,” Straytner said. “The latest research shows that they have average self-esteem or even superior self-esteem levels, and that they’re doing it because they want to be social leaders; they want to be perceived as being leaders of other people and seek attention.”

Bullies will seek out those they perceive to be the weakest and least likely to defend themselves – although they are often proven wrong, Straytner explained.

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“They’re often seeking out people who have deformities of some sort – physical deformities – and who appear to be weak. We just heard a story about anti-Semitism. There’s a perception of that they’re targeting a group of people who are weak; who are not going to fight back; who tend to intellectualize things, and that’s just not true,” he said. “And what we’re discovering more and more is that bullies are making mistakes in who they, if I can use this term, mess with.”

Straytner advised parents to look for warning signs of bullying – such as changes in sleep patterns, low academic performance, social withdrawal, avoiding school, and psychosomatic physical ailments.

He also said the best first step is to go directly to the bully’s parents.

“The first thing you do, if you hear your child is being bullied and you know who’s doing the bullying, is you go to the child’s parents. Now sometimes, parents are hesitant about doing that, because they worry that the parents, who oftentimes can be bullies to their own kids, might hurt their own child. But that’s the first thing you do,” Straytner said. “Then, if that doesn’t work, you kick it up a notch and you go to the school system.”

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