The third in our series by Kirk Winter about the issue of bullying.

Academic studies confirm that the typical bully chooses their victims carefully. In each and every case they are looking for a guaranteed victory to boost their own sense of self worth. One UBC study compared bullies to wolves, who in the wild prefer the easy kill, attacking the young, the sick, and the lame. Wolves especially prefer the stragglers who have become separated from the safety of the pack. Most bullying incidents I have become involved with play out in an eerily similar manner.

I cannot remember a single case of bullying that I dealt with as a teacher, coach, or club president where the victim was well integrated into their appropriate peer group. They were all too often stragglers, isolated for social, physical, emotional and monetary reasons.

Bullies sense that isolation, and know that those kids will be an easy mark because no one will intervene or stand up for them because the potential victim is seen as an outsider.

I have seen secondary students bullied over personal hygiene, fashion, lack of athletic, social or academic success, or not having the “right” cell phone. One of the saddest things I ever saw was one of our academically challenged students showing off his toy cell phone that he believed possessing would make him one of the “cool kids.”

An extensive bullying study recently released from Brock University in St. Catherines has come to a stunning conclusion regarding bullying and isolation. The single most important factor that offers your child protection from bullying is not supportive parenting, positive school environment, or the potential victim having positive self-esteem. Those factors all help, but the single biggest factor that reduces bullying by 50 percent is your child having one close friend who they can be with on the playground, in the lunch room, and on the bus. The close friend in a school change room or in a team hotel room reduces the chance of your child being bullied by half, and will go a very long way to improving your child’s mental health and self worth.

In the city of Kawartha Lakes, the reality of friends attending the same school or being involved in the same afterschool activity but living an hour apart is not uncommon. An awful lot of children see few peers until they return to school, and face-to-face friendships are hard until teens start driving for themselves.

We as parents need to do everything we can to foster those social connections for our children.Sleep overs, birthday parties, or hosting team events are a step in the right direction to building your child’s peer group. Face-to-face communication and interaction builds strong bonds between children. Texting is no substitute for that kind of interaction.

It is up to parents to make the effort to arrange for opportunities for the children to get together evenings and weekends for the sake of all of the individuals involved.

One close friend … that is the goal.

It is such an easy thing to do on paper, but so hard when the realities of commuting parents, one car families and multiple siblings going in 100 different directions every day are factored into the equation.

The Brock study says it is an effort worth making, and may be the easiest and best thing that we as parents can ever do for our children.

Part Four in our series on bullying will take a look at the 21st Century curse, cyber bullying, that affects young people at an alarmingly high rate.

Local NewsDeb Crossen