Professional Guidance

Professional Counseling
Dr. Charles C. Borsellino PHD.
Serving as board member for the Teen Guidance Foundation


"With two P.H.D.'s: one in Family Therapy and one in Neurology, along with authoring several books on parenting teens, Dr. Borsellino is actively involved in his practice and his many speaking engagements around the world. Dr. Borsellino is one of the world's foremost knowledgeable individuals in the field of bullying and gives guidance and counsel on how teens can deal with it, as well as parents.

Understanding Bullying

Bullying is a distinctive pattern of deliberately harming and humiliating others. It's a very durable behavioral style, largely because bullies get what they want- at least at first. Bullies are made, not born, and it happens at an early age, if the normal aggression of two-year-olds is not handled well.

Bullies couldn't even exist without victims, and they don't pick on just anyone: those singled out lack assertiveness and radiate fear long before a bully ever encounters them. No one likes a bully, but no one likes a victim either. Grown-up bullies wreak havoc in their relationships at home and at work. Our program involves two main features: first to reveal and secondly to resolve.

Bullied Children and Psychological Harm as Adults

Bullied children grow into adults who are at increased risk of developing anxiety disorders, depression and suicidal thoughts, according to a study led by researchers at Duke Medicine.

The findings, based on more than 20 years of data from a large group of participants initially enrolled as adolescents, are the most definitive to date in establishing the long-term psychological effects of bullying.

Published online Feb. 20, 2013, in JAMA Psychiatry, the study belies a common perception that bullying, while hurtful, inflicts a fleeting injury that victims outgrow. "We were surprised at how profoundly bullying affects a person's long-term functioning," said William E. Copeland, PhD, assistant clinical professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke University and lead author of the study. "This psychological damage doesn't just go away because a person grew up and is no longer bullied. This is something that stays with them. If we can address this now, we can prevent a whole host of problems down the road."

A previous longitudinal study of bullied children, conducted in Finland, found mixed results, concluding that boys had few lasting problems, while girls suffered more long-term psychological harm. That study, however, relied on registry data in the health system that didn't fully capture psychiatric records.

Copeland and colleagues had a much richer data set. Using the Great Smoky Mountain Study, the research team tapped a population-based sample of 1,420 children ages 9, 11 and 13 from 11 counties in western North Carolina. Initially enrolled in 1993, the children and their parents or caregivers were interviewed annually until the youngsters turned 16, and then periodically thereafter.

At each assessment until age 16, the child and caregiver were asked, among other things, whether the child had been bullied or teased or had bullied others in the three months immediately prior to the interview.

A total of 421 child or adolescent participants 26 percent of the children - reported being bullied at least once; 887 said they suffered no such abuse. Boys and girls reported incidents at about the same rate. Nearly 200 youngsters, or 9.5 percent, acknowledged bullying others; 112 were bullies only, while 86 were both bullies and victims.

Of the original 1,420 children, more than 1,270 were followed up into adulthood. The subsequent interviews included questions about the participants' psychological health.

As adults, those who said they had been bullied, plus those who were both victims and aggressors, were at higher risk for psychiatric disorders compared with those with no history of being bullied. The young people who were only victims had higher levels of depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, generalized anxiety, panic disorder and agoraphobia.

Those who were both bullies and victims had higher levels of all anxiety and depressive disorders, plus the highest levels of suicidal thoughts, depressive disorders, generalized anxiety and panic disorder. Bullies were also at increased risk for antisocial personality disorder.

The researchers were able to sort out confounding factors that might have contributed to psychiatric disorders, including poverty, abuse and an unstable or dysfunctional home life.

"Bullying is potentially a problem for bullies as well as for victims," said senior author E. Jane Costello, PhD, associate director of research at Duke's Center for Child and Family Policy. "Bullying, which we tend to think of as a normal and not terribly important part of childhood, turns out to have the potential for very serious consequences for children, adolescents and adults."

Costello and Copeland said they would continue their analysis, with future studies exploring the role sexual orientation plays in bullying and victimization. In addition to Costello and Copeland, study authors include Adrian Angold of Duke and Dieter Wolke of the University of Warwick, Coventry, England.

The work received support from the National Institute of Mental Health (MH63970, MH63671, and MH48085); the National Institute on Drug Abuse (DA/MH11301); the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation; and the William T. Grant Foundation.

Bullies and Substance Abuse

Students who bully their classmates are more likely to use cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana, compared with their peers who aren't bullies, a new study suggests.

"Our findings suggest that one deviant behavior may be related to another," lead author Kisha Radliff of Ohio State University said in anews release. "For example, youth who bully others might be more likely to also try substance use. The reverse could also be true in that youth who use substances might be more likely to bully others."

Newswise reports the researchers did not find as strong a link between bullying victims and substance use.

The researchers reviewed a survey of almost 75,000 students, which included questions on bullying and substance use. The survey found bullying was more common among middle school students than among high school students, and that substance use was more common among high schoolers.

Only 1.6 percent of middle school students not involved in bullying reported marijuana use, compared with 11.4 percent of bullies. Among high school students, 13.3 percent who were not involved in bullying used marijuana, compared with 31.7 percent of bullies. The study found similar results for alcohol and cigarettes.

"Many schools are mandating anti-bullying programs and policies, and we think they need to take this opportunity to address other forms of deviant behavior, such as substance use," Radliff said. "If we can intervene with bullies while they're in middle school, we may be able to help them before they start experimenting with substance use."

Stories Of Bullying

Gabrielle Molina

Gabrielle Molina, a 12-year-old girl living in Queens Village, New York, was found dead in her home May 22 after hanging herself from a ceiling fan. In her suicide note, Gabrielle apologized to her family and explained her actions, claiming that she had faced harsh cyberbullying from other students at Jean Nuzzi Intermediate School 109 in Queens Village. Both Gabrielle's mother, Glenda Molina, and a classmate report that Gabrielle faced constant bullying (both at school and online) that left her depressed.

Unfortunately, Gabrielle's death comes after a number of suicides related to cyber bullying incidents that reflect the pervasiveness of online harassment. A study by the American Academy of Pediatrics showed that one in six high school students reported being cyber bullied within the past year, with girls being twice as likely to report being cyber bullied than boys. Yet, this percentage is bound to increase as texting and social media become ubiquitous in the everyday life of teens. A Common Sense Media research study shows that two-thirds of teens text every day and half of teens visit social media sites daily. And as they spend more time plugged in, the risk of cyber bullying increases.

All this begs the question of what can be done to stem the recent increase in bullying, both online and off. A slew of schools have implemented anti-bullying initiatives that integrate bullying education into the curriculum, distribute information to students, and reform existing policies or create new ones. Bullying has also been addressed on a state level, where 49 states have enacted anti-bullying legislation that defines bullying and prohibits conduct associated with bullying.

However, despite the rise in programs and civic organizations dedicated to anti-bullying efforts,few bullying prevention programs have been thoroughly tested or proven effective in stopping bullying. One major difficulty in stopping cyber bullying is the nature of the harassment. Cyber bullying occurs in the world of social media, which is largely unregulated by any adults and follows students out of school and into their homes. Parents are often oblivious to online activity until it is too late. School officials are powerless to dole out punishments and it is largely unclear what their limits and boundaries are when it comes to dealing with an incident.

Thus, continuing efforts to prevent bullying must focus on elucidating the role of parents and educators in stopping bullying. The creation of school policies built to address these relationships are a key step. Additionally, programs must emphasize a change in overall school culture. A recent study showed that programs that focused on establishing the unfairness of bullying as a norm was more successful in changing behavior. Norms of behavior regarding social media usage should also be addressed. Students perceive virtual interactions to be just that separate from reality, imbued with anonymity, and lacking in consequence. It must be emphasized that malicious words can wound more deeply than one can perceive from their side of the screen, and just as much as words said in person.

Jamie Isaacs

Jamie Isaacs was only eight years old when she was first bullied. And today, Isaacs, now 16, is sharing her story so that other children and teens facing similar heartbreak know that they are not alone.

To that end, Isaacs and her mother, Anne, spoke at the David W. Crohan Community Center in Flanders on Oct. 30 at at 7 p.m., during one of a series of events organized by Southampton Town to raise awareness about bullying.

"The bullying started when I was in second grade," Jamie, who lives in Lake Grove but attends school in St. James, said. "The girl that bullied me was my best friend."

According to Jamie, the other child became jealous of her and her family, and started recruiting other girls to gang up against her.

"In third grade, this girl told another friend of mine that if she didn't hurt me, that she would be hurt instead. The girl told me what the bully was doing and we told the teacher and the principal, but nothing was done to reprimand this girl." The girl, Jamie said, threatened any other children who were her friends. "So they stopped being friends with me," Jamie said.

Jamie's mother Anne Isaacs said she knew right away that her daughter was being bullied. "It was very upsetting and painful," she said. "I had no idea that the bullying and torment would last six years and total 22 kids, both boys and girls, harassing Jamie on a daily basis." She added, "I didn't realize how the whole house would be turned upside down because of little kids. I didn't realize that our health would later become compromised due to the daily abuse and stress."

Describing the ordeal, Jamie said she was upset all the time. "I didn't want to go to school, but yet, I loved school. I was so distraught and couldn't understand how my best friend would betray me like this and go out of her way to hurt me and take my other friends away," Jamie said. "Sometimes I was so upset, I would make myself sick and throw up. Sometimes I didn't want to get out of bed. One day I took a doll and colored her eyes black and showed my mom and told her that this was how I felt. I had so much pain inside of me, that I didn't know how to describe what I was feeling. I was scared, frightened, sad, angry, depressed."

Both Jamie and her mother said that school administrators did not help, advising the child to "'Try and mend the fence.' I hate that saying," Jamie said.

After her parents withdrew Jamie from public school, the bullies next targeted her brother, she said. "I realized that something had to get done right away to stop this outrageous behavior," Jamie said.

Jamie read an article describing the efforts of Suffolk County Legislator Jon Cooper to stop cyberbullying and asked her mother to reach out to him. Jamie met with Cooper and showed him the paper trail and tape recordings of the principal and staff telling her and her parents that there was nothing they could do to get the bullying to stop, and that she should consider changing schools.

Cooper, she said, "was flabbergasted at what he heard and read." Subsequently, Cooper asked Jamie for advice on Suffolk County cyberbullying legislation. "I became empowered," Jamie said. "I felt unstoppable. I wanted to be able to help more families and teens through this horrible epidemic of bullying."

Today, Jamie said she is working with New York State Senator Jeffrey Klein to help pass a criminal component of currently existing New York State harassment legislation. Currently, she added, no legislation addresses electronic devices. "These laws need to be re-vamped to fit into our forever-changing society. How can we have harassment laws that only pertain to regular face to face harassment and stalking when cyber-bullying is in the forefront and always will be?" she asked.

"Bullying will never stop. It's human nature. But new legislation can control what is happening right now and down the road, as technology gets bigger and better, I will keep on pushing for these new laws as well as continue spreading awareness."

Looking ahead, Jamie says today, her future is bright with promise. Currently a high school junior, she plans to major in equine business management and therapeutic horsemanship in college; one day, she hopes to have a therapeutic ranch to help rehabilitate handicapped and mentally challenged chldren and adults -- as well as victims of bullying and bullies.

"Bullies need to learn how to give love, while bullied victims need to learn how to receive love. Horses can make that happen," Jamie said. For teens who are currently being bullied, Jamie has words born of heartache and stength: "Don't give up," she said. "Suicide is not the answer, and never will be." Teens, she said, should remember that they are special, and not let anyone strip them of that knowledge. "Life is a precious gift that no one should ever have taken away, especially by someone who is out to destroy you with harsh words, jealousy, envy and lies. Be proud of who you are and stand strong."

Her experience as a victim of bullying has changed her forever, Jamie said. "While it did rob me of my childhood in some ways, such as not hanging out with friends in the neighborhood, riding my bike, or going for a walk -- it also did something for me that I am forever grateful for. It made me who I am today. A very strong, dedicated, focused 16-year-old woman."

She added, "I would like to say 'thank you" to all of those that bullied me. You made me realize that I was very special and that I had something that you must have wanted. I am glad that I found my inner strength to succeed. Because of them, I was able to change schools and be all that I can be. I've received so many awards and even have my own state holiday. June 16 is Jamie Isaacs Day in New York. Now, that's cool."