Many parents I talk to are surprised to learn that, as in Debbie's case, girls are bullying other girls. Some researchers believe that bullying by girls is more common than bullying by boys, and some even describe bullying among girls as an "epidemic." Rather than using physical means, most girl bullies resort to relational or verbal bullying. They may isolate another girl from their social circle or gossip maliciously about her.

Experts disagree on what causes some children to respond to bullying by engaging in violence or by committing suicide. But there seems to be a link between these responses and violent music, movies, and video games, which often buttress feelings of low self-esteem and even encourage self-destructive behavior. Many such forms of entertainment elevate violence as an appropriate payback for bullying. As parents, we must evaluate if these forms of entertainment are igniting an already bitter fixation-like pouring gasoline on a smoldering fire.

If your child suffers from unexplained fatigue, fear, sleep disturbances, or vague physical ailments that crop up on school days, he or she may be struggling with someone who is a bully. These may be your only clues, because children who are bullied are usually fearful of reporting it-even to their parents.

It's important to remember, however, that bullying doesn't have to produce devastating long-term harm. Dr. James Dobson offers this encouragement:

"The human personality grows through mild adversity, provided it is not crushed in the process. I have enjoyed happiness and fulfillment thus far my entire lifetime, with the exception of two painful years. Those stressful years occurred during my seventh- and eighth-grade days, lasting through ages thirteen and fourteen. [Yet] these two years have contributed more positive features to my adult personality than any other span of which I am aware."

Helpful Hints: Face Bullying Head-on

Bob Smithhouser, youth culture advisor at Focus on the Family, offers these tips for parents whose children are being bullied:

• Assure your child that you are on his side and you won't take any action without discussing it first. But also make it clear that your intent is to protect your child

• Realize that your child is not to blame for being bullied, and refuse to believe any lies being told about him or her. The bully is the disturbed one. Remind your children of their value in you and God's sight, and help them understand that no one can make them feel inferior without their permission.

• Pray with and for your child for protection and wise decisions making. Pray for the bully to undergo a heart change. Pray about how you should intervene.

• Chronicle tense encounters in writing. Without exaggerating, note what was said or done, where it took place, who witnessed it, and so on. Beyond being therapeutic, this is especially helpful if outside mediators need to enter the picture.

• Investigate the school's anti-bullying policy. Call and talk to the principal or other authority-not the bully or the bully's parents. Knowing the amount of support one can expect on campus-and where to go for help-can make a child feel less isolated.

• Help your child learn to rely on trusted peers for support. Peers can provide a crucial safety net for vulnerable young people.

Adapted from "The Highly Healthy Child" by Walt Larimore, M.D. © 2004 by Zondervan. Used by special permission of Zondervan Publishers. For any other use, please contact Zondervan Publishers for permission. All rights reserved.