Bullying & the Special Needs Child: “You Must Be The New Kid”

bully.jpgTwo weeks from today on March 4th, the makers of the now infamous Grand Theft Auto and Manhunt2 adult video games, debut their teen-rated Bully sequel also known as “Bully 2” or Canis Canem Edit (Latin for “dog eat dog”). Rockstar games’ Bully Scholarship Edition shows three of the video game trailers on their new site including, “You must be the new kid,” “So Mean” & “A Microcosm.”In an oxymoronic word twist, the recent Bully Valentine clip gives you a feel for the “T-rated” content quickly, and the IGN gaming forums and Amazon video clip provide a snapshot into this upcoming release.

GameStats describes, “From edgy publisher Rockstar’s Vancouver development team comes this dark comedy set in the most vile and sadistic setting yet in a Rockstar videogame: the schoolyard.” Xbox360 chimes in, “One nice touch is the ability to humiliate your enemy once you’ve done enough damage. Humiliations are end moves for teenage boys and include the classic, “Why are you hitting yourself?” finisher.”

With the Wii edition, you can now take your torment to a new physical level of adolescent anger management, and literally get in the swing of things to simulate punches and stomps, all for $50-80 on multiple console platforms.

Seems like a good time for KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation) to update their 2002 and 2007 media studies, probe deeper into ‘virtual violence,’ and give us all a myth vs. reality analysis so we don’t get sucked into knee-jerk reaction mode…

If you think child advocates and educators are the only ones wincing and prepping their comebacks to the “it’s just a game” quadrant, think of parents like Marcie, a Chicago blogger at Discussing Autism, A Child Chosen, and her own site My Two Boys who we’re proud to feature in Shaping Youth’s guest editorial today, offering a special needs perspective on bullying in part two of our series…

marcie.jpgBut first, a bit about Marcie, who will be joining us at Shaping Youth from time to time to offer firsthand insights as an adoptive parent, former teacher and special needs correspondent.

Welcome, Marcie. Thrilled to have your voice in the mix!

Marcie is a former secondary education teacher with a Masters Degree in Reading and Young Adult Literature. But none of that education could have prepared her for her first son, a “special needs kiddo with auditory, visual and sensory processing disorders, food allergies and intolerances, heavy metal toxicity, parasites and bacterias.” She’s a Chicago suburbanite at heart, returning to her hometown of western Chicago with her husband last August to raise their two adopted children. AJ is from Arkhangelsk, Russia and the baby will join the family soon from Guatemala. Without further ado…here’s Marcie!

Put Up Your Dukes, a Review on Special Needs & Bullies

by Marcie Pickelsimer, special guest correspondent for Shaping YouthA recent Stockholm, Sweden study of 577 children found that students with AD/HD were four times more likely to be bullies and ten times more likely to be bullied themselves.

But what is interesting about this study is that its not new. In fact, bullying has been linked to both AD/HD (yes it is real) and Autism before. A study conducted in 2003 by the National Center for Health Statistics sampled 53,219 (a much larger number of children than the 577 sampled in Sweden) and found that “children with autism may bully more often because they are more often male (who are more likely to bully); they are more likely to be bullied (and victims are more likely to bully); and many children with autism require treatment for aggression (which potentially includes bullying).”

In all of my experience as both a teacher and a parent I have never seen an autistic child instigate the bullying. However, I have seen other children and adults misinterpret behaviors and react as if an autistic child was the bully (thus, perhaps the bully reactionary behaviors). We have all misinterpreted behaviors before but autistic children, or children with Sensory Processing Disorder, act differently that the norm expects and it is even more difficult to interpret and judge behaviors.

People often assume kids with AD/HD are bullies because of their hyperactive behavior, their aggressive outbursts, or their restless and impulsive natures.

For example, my son was playing at an indoor playground last Friday with another boy. They did not know each other but soon began to egg each other on nonverbally. They both tried to climb the same slide bridge, one child on each side. The other boy made it to the top first and taunted AJ by dangling his feet down the slide. He kicked AJ several times, sending AJ back down to the bottom. AJ shouted a toddler expletive (or so I think) and began climbing again, and again, and again.

aj-bridge.jpgEach time the boy kicked him down and each time AJ got more frustrated. AJ could not comprehend why the boy was doing this. He was so overwhelmed by the other 247 children in the 10×10 sq. ft. indoor park that when he finally made it to the top of the slide AJ pushed the boy off and claimed his slide in king of the mountain style; hands on his hips and a grin from ear to ear.

Does this make my son a bully? No. But, I know that he can act like one when he is overstimulated and not getting what he wants. If you did not know him you would think he was.

Who would you have punished if you had witnessed only a portion of this scene? AJ, right? But, who really instigated it and who is the real bully?

According to a national survey on school discipline conducted by Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD), about 32 percent of kids with AD/HD are “egged on” by their peers to act out and get into trouble. The study found that many youth with AD/HD were victims of bullies, but when they reacted to the bully, they were punished for poor behavior and the bully was not.

The victims are often weaker, have poor social skills, have learning disabilities, or AD/HD (I also think sensory issues play in).

Additionally, these types of kids often “annoy” other students because of personality traits, quirks, or differences and can learn to get what they need or want by becoming bullies, just like my son has (We believe that he learned this trait in the orphanage by being what is called the alpha male or “top dog” among his group. In his case the strongest survived.)

If we, as adults, have a difficult time interpreting and reacting how can we expect our children to react appropriately without proper coaching and/or training?

The “kids will be kids” mentality doesn’t cut it anymore, especially when tragedies like Columbine and the Jonesboro School Massacre occur. Bullying is not a normal part of childhood, even if Reese Witherspoon wants her children to be bullied.

What can parents do?

The most important portion of any program is parental buy-in. If parents work together with the school and the kids the programs will develop a greater connection.

Parents need to look for symptoms in their children, encourage their children to speak out, and always be an advocate.

What can teachers do?

Kids NEED positive intervention 100% of the time. This means that not only do teachers need to stand in the halls to watch children interact there but they also need to be visible in the classroom, in the locker rooms, in the lunch room where bullying takes place.

When I was teaching middle school a survey indicated that bullying took place more often in the classroom than in other parts of the school and the teacher did little about it. Either he or she did not see it or was actually part of it.

Adults can focus on the social environment and be active, accurately assess the bullying in the school, start bully prevention programs, start training staff, increase supervision in “hot spots”, intervene on a consistent basis, devote time to classroom education, and start making these programs on-going.

One of the best parts of my previous middle school was that they were starting to do these things, just as I became a stay at home mom.

What can kids do?

At the elementary level knowing how a bully thinks is half the battle.

A bully looks for differences, helplessness, and isolation. So, the first thing to do is beat all of those things. Honestly embracing differences, believing in themselves and holding their heads high, and surrounding themselves with people they trust.

Then, when telling an adult about their problem kids need to know that they are NOT being a tattle because of the 1-2-3 guide. If someone is being hurt, they are scared, or they can’t fix the problem by themselves they are not tattling…they are fixing a problem.

The basics of what kids can do at the elementary level? Spot it and Stop it.

But how do we get the message across that these kids could be mislabeled?

You’ve read that AD/HD kids can be bullies, that kids with Autism can be bullies, but why are they considered bullies? Are they really the ones to blame or is there some underline reason these kids are acting out?

Are the real issues here the self control, underline learning disabilities like auditory and visual processing disorders, that overlap with ADHD and cause frustration and aggression or other issues like Sensory Processing Dysfunction which can look like AD/HD?

If that is the case then parents and teachers need to be the ones who do the educating.

We need to teach our children that differences are okay. We need to educate the public (and ourselves) about learning disabilities, processing disorders, and ALL types of special needs. And, we need to show kids that WE believe in them by sticking up FOR them when we see bullying.

Even as an adult we need to SPOT IT, and STOP IT.

Visual credits of AJ courtesy of Marcie, who also blogs at:
My Two Boys
Discussing Autism
Chicago Moms Blog
A Child Chosen

Marcie’s helpful tips on socialization and the playground posse from a special needs angle are all too real…

I’ll add a few questions for all of our video gaming gurus out there…

How does bullying behavior and relational aggression present itself in ‘real life’ vs. simulations, video games or virtual worlds? Some argue direct correlation, while others claim the ‘acting out’ prevents real world violence like the Columbine kids massacre.

Is media reinforcing and normalizing these violent cues online and offline or a ‘safe spot’ for ‘make-believe’ to relieve adolescent angst with ‘limits and consequences’?

As Liz Perle, Editor in Chief of Common Sense Media and mom to a teen boy in the ‘target market’ reported in this article, “Virtual Bully: A Finer Line for Videogames”:

“…it’s sad that I am looking at this game – both as a mother and a professional information purveyor — with a modicum of relief because it appears not to be as ultra-violent (blood splattering and women being raped and beaten) as other games my kid and his friends want to play. What did Robin Williams say the other day? Something along the lines of ‘you know you’re bad when you start violating your standards more quickly than you can lower them.”

buddies.jpgAt Shaping Youth, we take a different approach and pose the obvious question,

“Can’t we do better?”

With amazing digital opportunities to instill POSITIVE cues, why are we dumpster diving with ‘bully’ vs. ‘buddy’?

Yeah, I know, less dramatic context, yadayada…I’m hoping the gaming industry (or virtual worlds) will “tackle this head on to knock some sense into the developers” that violence isn’t the ONLY ‘hook’ out there for ‘game-baiting’ kids.

Just like the ‘sex sells’ mantra, it’s simply the ‘lazy choice’ of an industry that could use its creative talents for a wow-pow-punch of compelling content.

Video gamers? Industry colleagues? I challenge you to raise the bar…

As rocker Pat Benatar says, “Hit me with your best shot…Fire away…”



  1. This is the type of reaction that comes up every time a developer comes out with a game that pushes the envelope, there are so called “studies” that prove either way but unless you sit and watch or play the game yourself you have nothing to say. Would you tell your child what book he or she can or can’t read? People can say that they read to educate themselves but let’s face it, we turn to these different types of media to “escape the every day reality” that we face.

    One thing that you are wrong about in this is that this game is not a sequel, it is not Bully 2, it only came out on playstation and now they are REreleasing it for Xbox and Wii with some added content.

    To make a long story short, please for the sake of everyone’s sanity go read this article….I can’t wait for the day that this Violent video games=violent kids debate to just end, it’s ridiculous.




  2. Hi Chris, thanks for the great link and comment! Appreciate it.

    Yeah, I know it’s not a sequel, but informally, (and on the game boards/forums) kids often refer to it as ‘Bully 2’ since the real title is such a mouthful…

    Will get to your other comment in a sec, as I have plenty of college volunteers ‘in-game’ testing various virtual worlds/MMORPGs, and console gamers that echo your notion that one can be a gentle/non-violent sort and still be a heavy duty saber rattler…

    Kids, (depending on emotional maturity, not necessarily even age-driven factors) developmentally run the gamut of whether they can (or will) separate the stomp-n-crush sims from the schoolyard…

    So I’m not a big fan of the ‘rating system’ absolutism either…(pretty lame, actually)

    Also I’m well aware ‘lying with statistics’ and ‘junk science’ comes in surround sound from both directions…and many camps. But here’s the thing…

    I liken video game violence to the ‘global warming debate’…which is to say, ‘it may not be PROVEN by every science pro hands-down but the gravity of the outcome and indicators don’t bode too well for civilization as a whole if we keep going in one direction, down one path, with our head in the sand about outcomes, causal links with kids, and without trying to reverse certain key trends…I’m saying ‘raise the bar’…elevate the conversation…

    Rather than spout a gazillion links/re: children’s behavioral states and violence/video game stats (AMA, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Psychological Association, American Academy of Family Physicians, American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry yadayada, fully recognizing that young children are most vulnerable since they’re easily impressionable, have a harder time distinguishing between fantasy and reality, don’t easily discern motives, learn by observing and imitating,etc. etc…

    http://www.mediafamily.org/facts/facts_vlent.shtml etc. etc….

    …I prefer to put forth this fun YouTube video from WonderingMinds42…

    It’s called, “How it all ends” explaining the complicated conundrum of placing our bets in the research camp of global warming…in a very simple, matter of fact way even the youngest children can embrace:


    Guess that’s what I’m trying to convey here…

    Let’s ask a different question which may result in a different answer and raise the bar for humanity altogether…
    Know what I mean?

  3. Dont worry, Im working up a response. I’ve been busy with work lately so I haven’t had time. I watched the video, its ….. uhh …. cute. Oh and who are these college volunteers who are playing games for you and why am I not one of them? Id be glad to write you reviews or something. But if thats what you are after then you may want to head here; http://www.gamerdad.com

  4. You’re on!

    The collegiate and high school gamers are often swapping research for ‘community service’ credits/volunteer time (e.g. our 501c3 is fodder for resume pumping high schoolers as well as collegiate dissertations, particularly with PhD types in the gaming realm) and we LOVE hearing from hard core gamers too as it always adds an interesting perspective. In fact I have a Second Life adult gamer contact inside the very violent world of ‘Gore’ who doubles as a priest in RL so he enlightens us as to the ‘why adults can play here but tweens and teens should NOT…enlightening to say the least re: some of the goings on there…

    I’ve asked him to do a ‘gamer’s perspective’ as he’s in-world big time in SL, but he keeps getting caught up in time pinches…You’re welcome to submit your POV, and ‘gamerdad’ looks ripe for the pickins! I’d love to get more points of view into the mix as dialogue is much more compelling than monologue and enables new perspectives and validations on all sides.

    More soon, still on a crippled system board so using a loaner, will keep it short. –a.

  5. A key thing to remember about Bully is that the character isn’t the bully. This isn’t the Columbine simulator that people say it is. To be perfectly honest I personally don’t think that this game is really meant for teens anyway. If I know anything about Rockstar games this game would be best appreciated by someone who has completed school. A 14 year old who hasn’t even been to High School isn’t really going to understand the situations or humor mostly because they haven’t lived it yet. I also think that sales of this game will probably reflect that. I highly doubt that 14 year olds will be interested in this game anyway.
    Another thing we should remember here is that one thing that all high school shooters have in common was that they had mental and social issues. And many of them were taking medication for these problems. I don’t understand how people can even mention video games when these kids are obviously already unstable. It seems like I’m the only one who asking; where are the parents? What exactly are they doing while Nazi flags hang in their child’s bedroom?
    On a lighter note (sort of,) the hilarious youtube video. I can think of at least one science teacher I had who was exactly like that. I see that he makes a good point, but you could easily apply that decision making square to any problem, even ones that don’t exist. He did give an example, but dismissed it rather quickly. And I can see how you want to apply that handy chart to video games, but it just doesn’t fit. Because in the real world there would only be one answer; people are just going to end up average. No shooting, no murder, just average.

    Here are some interesting facts about game sales that I found;

    1. 65% of game players are over the age of 18
    2. Only 15.5% of all games sold in 2007 were rated M
    3. 56.5% of all games sold in 2007 were rated E
    4. Females over 18 play more games (28%) than boys 6-17 (21%)

    If it wasn’t obvious before it should be now. Gamers aren’t kids anymore. We all grew up, but we still play games. Game developers know this and they make what we like. People don’t buy games like Doom anymore, so developers don’t make them. I was going to quote sales of a similar game that was released recently, but I can’t even find one. Gamers now want story and character development. Adult themes like war and violence will always be present, but they will be used in such a way that is consistent with the story and isn’t just violence for the sake of violence.
    In my list I noted that over 50% of all games made are rated E. You may not be a ratings absolutist, but can you really argue with E? You will be hard pressed to find an E rated game that is controversial. So you want the bar to be raised? Well apparently it already was raised and you missed it. There are plenty of games for kids and plenty of games for adults and plenty that both can enjoy together. Here are the top 10 sellers for 2007.

    Top 10 Games (Title (platform, maker) units)

    1. Halo 3 (360, Microsoft) – 4.82m
    2. Wii Play with Wii Remote (Wii, Nintendo) – 4.12m
    3. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (360, Activision) – 3.04m
    4. Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock (PS2, Activision) – 2.72m
    5. Super Mario Galaxy (Wii, Nintendo) – 2.52m
    6. Pokémon Diamond (DS, Nintendo) – 2.48m
    7. Madden NFL 08 (PS2, Electronic Arts) – 1.9m
    8. Guitar Hero II (PS2, Activision) – 1.89m
    9. Assassin’s Creed (360, Ubisoft) – 1.87m
    10. Mario Party 8 (Wii, Nintendo) – 1.82m

  6. Trust me, you’re not the only one asking that. (‘where are the parents’ re: the anti-social/Columbine factor) —this played out pretty overtly with the news coverage, but I strongly feel parents are CONSTANTLY being undermined and working 24/7 just to stay on top of the cues being sent to kids w/media/marketing in a triage of acceptability.

    The “E” rating shift was not missed in the least, and I’m glad of it…and yes, the average gamer playing MMORPGs like World of Warcraft, according to nickyee.com and Stanford’s research etc. is about 26 years old…so that’s not my ‘issue.’

    As you say, games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band and Wii interactives can become family fun in a huge multi-age mashup…my concern is more about ‘elevating the content’ to a higher level for all of humanity, not elevating the ratings standards per category, because all that does is make kids want the ‘next edgiest level’ of forbidden fruit.

    I guess it’s an esoteric question…why can’t we take some of those top contenders as evidence that you CAN make big bucks off of content and sims that are tons of fun w/out the toxicity levels of murder/mayhem/misogyny etc. because clearly it CAN be done!

    As for the silly little global warming YouTube video, yes, it’s simplistic, and not universally applicable, but I like the way he’s distilled the ‘what ifs’ of risk management into a ‘why not raise the bar to a healthier level for the planet’ mentality…and I guess that’s ultimately what I’m saying here.

    Why reinforce the negative when we can put energy toward the positive? Would humanity really be dull as dishwater if we purposefully chose to put our talents toward positive exploration of dramatic tension rather than degradation of fellow beings?

    There’s plenty of REAL world violence to spin off of to ‘fight the good fight’ so to speak…just shift the villains and characters to reframe for purposeful pursuits; Darfur comes to mind…use media to tell a story, etc. (much like the kids at the Harry Potter Alliance used social media to correlate the darkness with actions to make a difference, etc.) I’m beginning to sound Pollyanna-ish here, as it’s quite evident I fall into the Guitar Hero over violence camp for kids’ emotional cognitive development any ol’ day.

  7. Oh! And since this post was about special needs more than the video game itself (since as you say, I haven’t played it yet, and am working off of video clips and reviews) I’ll address your notion that ‘unstable’ kids shouldn’t be playing video games to begin with…


    Are you saying that milder rated ‘teen’ content like Bully should be off-limits to those with ‘issues?’ That in itself implies causal links to violent gaming in a sort of tiered, ‘well, it’s ok for ‘normal’ kids but not others’ approach.

    Where do we draw the line with that behavioral theme? For example:

    Yesterday I interviewed the teen who wrote the ADHD& Me Book about bullying/special needs and media influences, asking that very question (in terms of kids that have psychosocial or sensory impairment, are on meds for ADHD, etc.) and he admitted that he didn’t frequent games in his youth to any strong degree, but opined that even if kids DO have issues of instability, if it ‘makes them happy/content/calm’ it’s still appropo to enable play…This mirrors the argument of ‘better to let them work out aggression via Wii than in real life’…

    Not sure that holds true from some of the kids we see in the schoolyard in REAL life though…One middleschool ‘anger mgmt’ kid w/a host of psychological baggage comes to mind (he’s thrown chairs a teacher, his lunch box/juice at parent volunteers in elem. school, etc.) and his writing is dark, dark, dark with a propensity for violent scenarios/shock reactions and ‘ewww’ moments mirroring video games that make both kids and educators squirm.

    He plays shooter games often, is a heavy gamer universally (not AO, as there’s constant parental/medical monitoring, but my guess is he’s getting them elsewhere regardless) and frankly…the kids tiptoe around him wondering when he’s gonna ‘go off’ on them…

    That doesn’t seem healthy for ANY one, since everyone feels the stress of being unsafe. (from a safety/triggerpoint schoolyard approach, the kids have all been ‘debriefed’ in terms of not taunting or escalating conflict; ostracizing in and of itself!)

    I’ve actually just asked one of our special needs correspondents in Chicago to address whether ‘mainstreaming’ helps or hinders kids in these types of scenarios…

    Where’s the line drawn in terms of media/violence/’acting out’ intervention and coping skills? Are games like ‘Bully’ that DO have some moral ’cause/effect’ outcomes useful in determining the mindset and insecurities of certain pathologies so that kids can deter violence, humanize the perpetrator to avoid conflict, etc. or are they just rock-’em sock ’em robots in digital form to escalate stomp sims in kick tail wannabe satisfaction? And where do ‘special needs’ kids fit into this equation?

  8. “Are you saying that milder rated ‘teen’ content like Bully should be off-limits to those with ‘issues?’ That in itself implies causal links to violent gaming in a sort of tiered, ‘well, it’s ok for ‘normal’ kids but not others’ approach.”

    Actually I making a specific reference to this game in particular. Think of it a Pixar movie, the kids love it and its perfectly ok for them, but every once and a while they will throw in a joke for the parents. The kids dont even realize that its a joke because its so far above their heads. Rockstar does that sort of thing with their games. (I realize that the parallel isnt perfect, but stay with me.) A 14 year old might recognize some of the situations and jokes, but an 18 year old who has been through school will most likely comprehend and appreciate the humor more.

  9. Thanks for the edification…since this is more of a ‘special needs’ post than a game review, I won’t battle about the nuances but rather the theme overall, leaving the contextual content to those in the ‘try it out/see for yourself’ mode to weigh in once it starts making the rounds. (care to demo and report back?)

    As a college gamer vs. grade school guy, I’d ask that you keep in mind the rating system aspects and frame your comments/research in that direction, since we focus primarily on K-12 with crossover into lasting youth impact…Interested?

  10. p.s. I should add…

    I’m well aware the shock value of the name/concept alone is used to ‘market’ so will instead plant the seed that we can/should learn from the potential of ‘getting inside the mindset’ of a bullying brain to make sense of the insecurities/jealousies and m.o. that transpires…(special needs or not) — as it’s all part of kids’ coping skills in life. I’ve witnessed enough relational aggression at the middle school ages and stages (from mean girl mentality reinforced w/media to ‘just kidding’ shoves from boisterous boys that are sorting out identities and pecking order on the blacktop and beyond) to know that ‘tomatoe or tomahto’ this kinda stuff hurts.

    That said, I’m not a protectionist type, as these are life skills kids need in microcosm form as they enter the job world and beyond. I just don’t feel we need media manifestation/reinforcement of same; seems unnecessary to me. There’s plenty of cruelty in this world being doled out as it is…Nevertheless, give the Wii a go and report back to us…I’d be curious to hear a ‘gamer’ take on it…since I’m admittedly in the ‘can’t we find more productive pursuits’ camp, sight unseen.

  11. I would love to review it for you. However, that would require that I buy either an Xbox or a Wii first, since I dont own either of them. Although new versions for other platforms may arrive in the future.

    “I just don’t feel we need media manifestation/reinforcement of same; seems unnecessary to me.”

    Sure, I agree with that, but like I said before I dont really think that this game is meant for early teens anyway.

  12. Yep…concur.

  13. Another post on this same game, same theme…interesting commentary/dialogue addressed…


  14. p.s. VG: I’ve been out of commission w/tech probs, so will hold on assigning anything until I can catch up a tad…thanks for the offer, I’ll follow up when I can breathe a bit…

  15. Mean Girls, Bullies, Study Sheds Light on School Cliques

    New study from the Univ. of Alabama very relevant re: bullying/popularity/social visibility here:


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