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Young girl being bullied at schoolDawn Lackner/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Craig and Marc Kielburger founded Free The Children and Me to We. Their biweekly Brain Storm column taps experts and readers for solutions to social issues.

When we imagine a bully, we think first of a cartoon Nelson Muntz giving Bart Simpson a wedgie and Back to the Future's Biff Tannen knocking on George McFly's forehead. More recently there was Lindsay Lohan's bullies in Mean Girls (like the nasty Regina George) or the various conniving cheerleaders and football players on Glee. These characters seem born to taunt their peers, which makes us wonder, "Where are their parents?"

But is that a fair question? Experts say that today's bullies aren't always the obvious culprits. They're not necessarily the neglected or the aggressive, but often the smart, attractive kids who sneak under the radar of adult supervision. Parents might never know their child is a mean girl or boy until they get that dreaded phone call from the principal's office.

It may be hard for parents to imagine that their little angels could inflict physical or social pain on their peers, but it pays to be vigilant. They are still, after all, young human beings working out how to interact in our world, and strategic intervention at the teasing or noogie stages is likely the best way to avoid the more dangerous forms of bullying that have made recent headlines.

This week's question: How can you tell if your child is a bully, and what should you do about it?


Tracy Vaillancourt, Canada Research Chair in Children's Mental Health and Violence Prevention at University of Ottawa

"Bullying behaviour is reinforced when adults do nothing to address it – inaction is complicity. Make sure that your child is not bullying his/her siblings, and avoid the euphemistic label of sibling rivalry. Listen to what others are saying about your child – do other parents drop subtle hints that your child's interaction style with peers is coercive? Finally, observe his/her social interactions: does your child exert a lot of power and influence among his/her peers?"

Karen Sebben, executive director of the York Region Anti-Bullying Coalition

"First, acknowledge the fact. Rather than deny your child's aggressive tendencies, work collaboratively with your child's school to take action: support the consequences taken by the school at home, ask for assistance to help change negative behaviour and develop relationship skills, and support your child in learning how they can make restitution for the harm they have caused."

Bill Belsey, President of

"You can't bully someone into not being a bully, so threatening your child is not helpful. Bullying behaviour needs formative consequences – consistent and fair – that teach by example positive, healthy relationships with others. Young people remember some of what we tell them, but they are much more likely to emulate the behaviour they see adults model."

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