Extra Credit

Extra Credit

Getting pushed around by a school bully may be a common, if unpleasant, childhood experience, but Carroll Professor of Nursing Judith Vessey warns that the consequences may go far beyond a bloody nose or temporarily hurt feelings.

"In elementary school, kids who get bullied usually go to their parents," said Vessey. "In middle school or high school, however, they are more apt to turn to their peers. Or, perhaps worst of all, they tell no one."

The outcome in both cases is seldom a happy one, particularly the latter, she says, citing the well-publicized incidents of school violence where the instigators often had been targets of bullying or other harassment.

So how to nip bullying and its harmful effects in the bud? Vessey says schools have an important resource already, one usually overlooked in the discussion: the school nurse.

Vessey last week gave a keynote address to the New York School Association of School Nurses meeting in Syracuse, NY, titled "Teasing and Bullying: Names Can Also Hurt Me." She also visited a school district in rural North Carolina, one of four test sites for a project she is spearheading that aims to design a new screening tool to identify students who are bullies' targets.

"According to available data," she said, "approximately 10 percent of the United States school-age population, from late elementary through high school, are chronically bullied or teased - but not to the point where adults know something is wrong. Those are the kids we have to reach, because for whatever reason they are not getting the level of support or help they need.

"If they rely on friends, or on themselves, to solve problems that are beyond their capability to deal with, the results can be disastrous."

While schools seldom have a shortage of concerned adults ready and willing to tackle bullying, Vessey says nurses tend to have a highly useful rapport with students.

"Nurses are seen by kids as 'safe,'" she explained. "Principals are the authority figures, concerned with discipline. Counselors may be helpful, but they're viewed as kind of intrusive, wanting to 'mess with your head.'

"But a nurse is the one who dresses the injuries, who literally patches people up. That's a very powerful image for kids, and one we shouldn't ignore."

Still, if nurses are going to take on this added role, Vessey says, "we need scholarly data to help in providing them support or training." She says she hopes the new screening tool being developed through her project will help in that regard.

-Sean Smith


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