Published in:  Loudoun Times-Mirror on November 23, 2010

By: Mr. Matt Vecchio


Dr. Michael Oberschneider described his first appearance on national television as bittersweet. While his trip to New York City and appearance on “Good Morning America” was an unexpected and exciting experience, the subject matter was not.

Oberschneider, founder and director of Ashburn Psychological Services, appeared on the popular show Nov. 6 with Loudoun resident Walter Perkins, the father of 16-year-old Hunter Perkins, who took his life after expulsion from the Groton School in Massachusetts for bullying.

ABC caught wind of the story, and wanted the father, specifically, to come tell his story,” said Oberschneider, who appeared on the show as a mental health expert.

During the segment, Oberschneider discussed bullying from a counterintuitive position, stating that schools need to better understand the needs of both the bully and the bullied.

There is a tremendous difference between a bad prank, harassment and a hate crime, and not all offenses or offenders should be dealt with in the same manner,” Oberschneider said.

A rising concern
“We are entering a period as a society where we view manageable but complicated situations as unmanageable ones,” Oberschneider said. For example, he said he is concerned about the rising rate in teen suicides.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that suicide is the third leading cause of death, behind accidents and homicide, of people age 15 to 24. Additionally, suicide is the fourth leading cause of death for children between the ages of 10 and 14.

The current ‘zero tolerance’ position and approach to bullying adopted by our school systems is an incomplete one,” Oberschneider told the Times-Mirror. “Educational institutions need to better understand the complete dynamics of bullying, which would include identifying bullies and instituting interventions sooner.”

Oberschneider’s argument is that schools focus too much on the “back end” of the problem―how to punish the bully after the bullying happens. He says that style of thinking needs to change, and administration needs to focuses more on the “front end” – prior to when bullying actually occurs. This involves identifying conflict sooner and an obligation to address the problems when they surface.

Sensitivity training, cognitive-behavior therapy and improved communication between involved school personnel and parents is essential for change,” Oberschneider said. “Currently, everybody involved suffers from bullying.”

Good Morning, Loudoun
“I received several phone calls after the show,” Oberschneider said. “Both parents of children who are bullies and parents of those who are bullied. These parents that felt some kind of support from the show certainly validated that it was a good idea.”

From a local perspective, Oberschneider reiterated that LCPS would benefit by adopting a better approach to implementing programs that identify bullying much earlier.

“I hope Superintendent Ed Hatrick watches the [Good Morning America segment] and gets an idea of all the tragedies and problems involving bullying in the school system,” he said.

Oberschneider, who has been practicing in Loudoun for six years, has had his own bullying experiences to help understand the thought process of today’s youth.

I remember as a freshman in high school I was bullied,” he said. “I was harassed, humiliated, pushed around and teased, but nothing was done. I didn’t do anything because I didn’t feel I could go to the administration and talk about it.”

Oberschneider said that bullied kids usually don’t speak up for themselves.

“School administrators can’t wait around for bullied individuals to come forward.”

Oberschneider also said that not all bullying is necessarily bad. He claims that being the butt of a prank or getting roughed up a bit can actually help a child emotionally.

It can be a real growth lesson – help develop a thicker skin,” he said. “My bullying experience didn’t make me weaker, it made me stronger.”
But there are always two sides to the coin.

Even when mild bullying occurs, the school system needs to be aware of it,” Oberschneider said. “Teachers and a school psychologist should be available to both the bully and the bullied. But let the students be involved in the resolution – it’s preparation for real life.”