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How to identify bullying and what parents can do to prevent it

Carmelina Vargo of Mars, PA, witnessed multiple bullying encounters as her children began to participate in youth sports.

The poor sportsmanship extended beyond the youth athletes, however, and also included parents and volunteers, according to Vargo.

Vargo is one of four local mothers that got together in March 2012 to discuss the painful bullying experiences their children have encountered. In order to stand up against bullying, the mothers united and formed an organization to combat the issue. Vargo is the founder and president of Parents for PRIDE, Neighborhoods Against Bullying..

PRIDE stands for protect, respect, influence, develop and encourage.

“We protect our children, respect each other, offer positive influence to the children, help develop the proper fundamentals and encourage teamwork,” reads the Parents for PRIDE mission statement.

The organization’s goal, according to the mission statement, is to reduce adult and peer bullying within youth sports, while increasing awareness of the harmful effects of bullying in communities, neighborhoods and schools on a national level.

The Parents for PRIDE treasurer, Susan Martinez, has a 10-year-old daughter who plays softball in her neighborhood recreation league. Martinez didn’t personally experience any issues with bullying, but she is aware of its growing problem.

“I know it’s out there, and it’s getting worse,” said Martinez.

According to Parents for PRIDE, many parents’ expectations of organized youth sports are to allow their children to have fun with their friends, while developing skills at the same time. However, experiences with bullying in these environments can have a long-term negative impact on the children involved.

Whether it’s on or off the field, according to experts, there is a fine line between competition and bullying.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” said University of Pittsburgh Medical Center psychologist Dr. Paul Friday. “That’s a lie.”

Friday is an author and professional speaker on sports psychology.

“Bullying has little or nothing to do with anger, which a lot of people think,” said Friday. “It’s more to do with contempt. (Bullies) use the four attributes of bullying to overcome or to basically display the contempt they have towards anyone that’s not like them or challenges them.”

According to Friday, those four markers of bullying are imbalance of power, intent to harm, threat of further aggression, and terror. Friday said they usually present themselves in that order.

While competition in sports is often viewed as healthy, if processed the wrong way it can at times lead to bullying.

It’s important that parents are not only aware that bullying occurs, but that they how to deal with it and how to prevent it, according to Friday. This can include keeping computers in a family area to prevent online bullying, and making sure parents are involved and engaged with their children.

“It’s required to get involved,” Friday said. “Adult bystanders have an ethical obligation: to help a bully understand how destructive they are. That’s one of the hallmarks of the repair, to have bullies recognize that their behaviors are not a sign of their strength, it’s a sign of destructiveness.”

According to national anti-bullying expert Dr. Joel Haber, up to 90 percent of children have observed bullying or have been victims. Yet only one out of five children report the bullying.

Haber, a criminal psychologist and author who has been featured in anti-bullying pieces in the New York Times, on ABC, CBS National News and on ESPN and NPR radio, identifies three types of bullying: physical, verbal and relational.

Physical bullying consists of any type of physical harm against another person’s will. Verbal bullying includes any type of verbal taunting. Relational bullying can consist of embarrassment of another player or gossiping.

“These types of bullying all hurt and can leave long-lasting scars for the victims,” said Haber in an article.

Aside from leaving lifelong negative effects on a child’s self-esteem, bullying in its most extreme cases have led to serious injury and even death.

Twelve-year-old Pennsylvania boy Bailey O’Neill died after being in a medically induced coma after a fight on a school playground.

After hearing that Bailey had no brain activity, Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice decided to make it his mission to fight against bullying. The NFL All-Pro took matters into his own hands and posted a note on Facebook, speaking out against bullying.

“I don’t think I will ever be able to understand why kids bully each other and how we are all sitting here after yet another ‘bully death,’” Rice wrote. “I don’t know when parents, teachers, elected officials and administrators will sit up and take notice and act.

“I do know this: I will not give up my fight,” Rice continued. “Every day I will continue to fight against bullying and fight for kindness.”

Rice put together written testimony in March 2013 to support legislation designed to make cyber bullying a crime in the state of Maryland. In the testimony, Rice declares his devotion.

“Anything we can do to prevent one more child from taking their life or suffering through the pain and anguish of bullying, is the right thing to do,” said Rice in his testimony.

Other athletes have spoken out against bullying.

Former NFL linebacker Anthony Griggs, whose son played basketball with the son of PRIDE founder Vargo, recognized abnormal behaviors while watching games and practices.

“We have some coaches coaching their own sons, and sometimes their overly fatherly intentions can be a little more over the top,” said Griggs. “We can do better, and maybe we can help people do better by making them aware.”

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