The Bully Profile


This little rascal accompanies a story from about a new study, published in the February issue of Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology, showing that children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are almost four times as likely as others to be bullies. “In an intriguing corollary,” the article notes, “the children with ADHD symptoms were almost 10 times as likely as others to have been regular targets of bullies prior to the onset of those symptoms.”


Alan Kazdin, a specialist in child development, says the new results may help sensitize parents and teachers to the possibility that some kids with ADHD might have issues that go beyond antsy behaviors and attention problems. Estimates of how many kids have ADHD range from 4 percent to 12 percent.

Unfortunately though, treating ADHD won’t remedy the bullying because drugs for the condition impact a child’s ability to focus in school but not the aggression that could lead to bullying, says Kazdin, a professor of psychology and child psychiatry and director of the Parenting Center and Child Conduct Clinic at Yale University, and president of the American Psychological Association.

In related news, as the Washington Post reported earlier this week, Maryland state legislators are considering a bill that would require schools to toughen standards for investigating alleged bullies and punishing them for their behavior–whether the bullying takes place on school grounds or, as is increasingly the case, online. (I’ve discussed the emerging challenge of cyberbullying in a series of posts prompted by the Megan Meier suicide.)

The Maryland bill, introduced by Democrat Craig Rice, would extend the 2005 Safe Schools Reporting Act, which has prompted a 100 percent spike in reports of bullying incidents in the state’s public schools. One expects that this upward trend would continue, and perhaps rise exponentially, if the jurisdiction expanded to include MySpace and Facebook. “We have some concerns about being asked to police things that don’t happen on the school grounds,” said Maryland State Department of Education spokesman Bill Reinhard. “It’s a difficult thing.”

I’m curious to know how schools, in Maryland and elsewhere, investigate charges of bullying, and what sorts of punishment are meted out in cases where the bullying is confirmed. Are the bullies suspended, expelled? Are police called in, in which case the crackdown on bullies could encourage a spike in juvenile contact with the law? The article doesn’t get into this territory, but I’m on the lookout for answers to these questions. If you have or find any information on that point, please send it my way.

Somehow I suspect that a spike in reports of bullying incidents wouldn’t lead to a parallel spike in juvenile contact with the law. The reason, I think, has everything to do with racial codes. You hear the word “bully” and you picture the image at the top of this post: a white kid who may need a prescription for Ritalin and, if matters don’t improve, a firm slap on the wrist, but who probably shoudn’t be pulled out of school for more than a few days. You hear “at-risk youth,” and you see a darker profile, something more akin to the teens on The Wire, the HBO drama set in Baltimore. Maryland Governor O’Malley’s solution for handling “at-risk youth” who act out is to lock ’em up, if not in a secure facility then with a GPS-equipped ankle bracelet. If he tried to bring that approach to the bully problem, though, he’d be out of a job.


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