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Published October 13 2010

Local counselor to speak on bullying

If you go

As the issue of bullying continues to be a topic of concern across the nation, the North Dakota chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention will present an event to try to cope with the complex issue.

“Encounters With Bullies: Adults Stepping In” will be from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday at ecce art + yoga in downtown Fargo.

The event, planned months ago, comes as bullying is receiving renewed attention. Last month, a Rutgers University freshman killed himself after his roommate secretly recorded him in a romantic encounter with a male student, then broadcast the video online.

Closer to home, a Fargo mother whose son has been the victim of bullying recently made news for advocating North Dakota anti-bullying legislation.

Terry Barrett, Ph.D., a counselor for Discovery Counseling in Fargo, will deliver a presentation at Thursday’s event, aimed at educating the general public but especially geared to parents, teachers, administrators, social workers, clergy and therapists.

And while the victim of bullying is often the focus of many stories about peer tormenting, Barrett said that part of the ongoing national problem is that there are now more bullies than victims.

Barrett said one national study found that just less than 4 million American children would say they’ve bullied someone in the past year, and that just over 3 million children would say they’ve been bullied.

It is a “larger social problem that continues to affect a good segment of the population,” he said.

And in different ways now than has in the past.

The face of bullying has changed with the times, in part with the advent of cyber-bullying, in which an individual is demeaned or threatened via digital mediums such as Facebook, e-mail, message boards and text messages.

Barrett credits the advent of cyber-bullying for increasing the overall percentage of students who are being bullied.

“It’s not just on the playground,” said Brenda Weiler, co-chair of the North Dakota AFSP and co-owner of ecce art + yoga.

The person doing the bullying “doesn’t have to go out of their way to find the target now,” Barrett said.

And he said that’s not the only change that has occurred in bullying.

“Girls are becoming more aggressive physically than they have been in the past,” he said. Barrett believes that girls are being rewarded for being more assertive and standing up for themselves.

But, he said there is “a line that can be crossed between being assertive and standing up for yourself and becoming aggressive.”

Barrett offered a number of signs that can indicate a child is being bullied, including:

For school personnel who find out about bullying, Barrett said the “first step has to be to protect the child who’s being bullied.”

And adults in school must devise a plan to protect the child and give the child the message that “we are here to protect you.”

It’s important to remedy the situation early, as the effects of being bullied can carry over into adulthood.

Barrett said the after-effects of bullying can stay throughout a victim’s adulthood with the individual tending to be more anxious, having a higher tolerance for mistreatment and dealing with low self-esteem and a sense of inadequacy.

Mary Weiler, board chairwoman for the North Dakota AFSP, and Brenda’s mother, hopes the event will help reduce bullying.

“The hopes are that we can have an open forum to learn more about what bullying is,” she said, adding that they hope to also find out what can be done to help. “To me, community is extremely important.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Shane Mercer at (701) 451-5734