• Family Physicians Help Patients and Families Confront Bullying

    Monday, June 25, 2018

    Stephanie A. Wilken
    Public Relations Strategist
    (800) 274-2237, Ext. 6053

    LEAWOOD, Kan. — When family physician Michael Munger, MD, steps into one of his exam rooms, he doesn’t always know what to expect. He sees patients from all walks of life, all ages and all genders. He recently entered the exam room to find one of his patients, a young adolescent we’ll call Mitch, sulking in a chair next to his mother. He knows Mitch, because he’s cared for him since he was a happy-go-lucky toddler.

    Recently, something happened and Mitch’s mood changed. His grades began to falter, he made excuses to avoid school, and he was no longer interested in playing lacrosse. Mitch was already self-conscious about his size 14 shoes, and now he was being bullied about his acne. In fact, the bullying became so bad that he was afraid to report it for fear of retaliation by his peers.

    Mitch’s story isn’t uncommon. Bullying can happen anywhere and can appear in many forms as unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived power imbalance.

    The Centers for Disease Control estimates that, in the past year, 20 percent of youth have been bullied on school property and 16 percent have been bullied electronically. Verbal and social bullying are the most common, followed by physical bullying and cyberbullying. Seventy percent of young people reported seeing bullying in their schools.

    “The experience of being bullied can have long-lasting and devastating effects on people of all ages, but especially on children in their formative years,” said Munger, who practices family medicine in Overland Park, Kansas, and is president of the American Academy of Family Physicians. “Parents and children sometimes can’t resolve the problem on their own, and it’s OK to ask for help.”

    Family physicians can help families identify and address the harmful effects of bullying such as physical injury, anxiety, depression and sleep disorders.

    Kathleen Eubanks-Meng, DO, a family physician in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, has cared for high school students with symptoms of depression related to online and face-to-face bullying. She said bullying often stems from jealousy of peers’ blossoming romances, or girls putting down other girls for their height, weight and body type. She has even seen cases where teachers have been the bullies or victims of bullying themselves.

    “Whether it be name calling, spreading rumors or purposefully excluding someone, kids can be so cruel without knowing the harm they are inflicting,” said Eubanks-Meng. “My job as a family physician is to advocate for my patients. Sometimes this means meeting with school administrators, coordinating counseling, and developing an individualized plan involving school and home support systems.”

    Both Munger and Eubanks-Meng agree that a team-based approach to halt bullying can lead to positive outcomes, but they emphasize the need to seek help early and to be consistent. By doing so, it sends a message to the bully that the behavior is not acceptable and will not be tolerated.  

    For more information on how to prevent and confront bullying, visit familydoctor.org and this media kit

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    About American Academy of Family Physicians
    Founded in 1947, the AAFP represents 127,600 physicians and medical students nationwide. It is the largest medical society devoted solely to primary care. Family physicians conduct approximately one in five office visits -- that’s 192 million visits annually or 48 percent more than the next most visited medical specialty. Today, family physicians provide more care for America’s underserved and rural populations than any other medical specialty. Family medicine’s cornerstone is an ongoing, personal patient-physician relationship focused on integrated care. To learn more about the specialty of family medicine and the AAFP's positions on issues and clinical care, visit www.aafp.org. For information about health care, health conditions and wellness, please visit the AAFP’s consumer website, www.familydoctor.org.