Downing, the bilingual ESL coordinator for the Region 14 Education Service Center, presented a program on the widening problem of bullying to parents at a migrant parent program sponsored by Snyder ISD.
"Bullies are social manipulators and have power over their victims," he said. "A bully has friends and allies -- they never act alone."
Myths abound regarding the stereotypical bully and how to deal with them, Downing said.
"It's not always the big kid picking on the smaller kid, and girls can be bullies just like boys," he said.
Another misconception about bullying is that it is always physical. Any sustained and continuous verbal or physical abuse falls into the bullying category, Downing said, adding that girls are more likely to engage in mental abuse.
"They have a need to be in control, hold power over others and have little empathy," he added.
Victims of abuse are usually socially isolated and often suffer from low self-esteem, Downing said. Also, they often have a close relationship with overprotective parents. Victims of bullying are more likely to have problems with school work and their health, as well as depression.
In extreme cases, some children have committed suicide as a result of being bullied.
Bullies have a heightened sense of self-esteem, but have issues that make them want to intentionally hurt other children.
"They are less likely to go to college, more likely to go to prison and three times more likely to commit a felony before the age of 30," Downing said. "Like sharks bump their prey to gauge the reaction, so too do bullies when they approach."
Despite a long-held belief that those being picked on should fight back, Downing said that will make the matter worse on the victim through even more social isolation.
"Rather than gaining favor, usually the bully gains more allies. And if it is social rather than physical, retaliation won't help."
He also said that parents should never tell their children to ignore it. Downing said the method he recommends is called "So and Go" where intended victims use a stern voice to say "So!" or "Leave me alone!" and then leave the area.
He also said parents should teach their children to be good witnesses.
"If kids are gathering around and laughing, it only encourages the behavior."
Parents also should stay involved in their children's lives as a listener, and to help guide them into extracurricular activities where they can meet like-minded peers.
One area that has changed the dynamic of bullying is the widespread use of social media sites and cellphone text messages. The development of media has led to more taunting of victims. Downing advised tight rules for cellphone and computer use, with parental controls and monitoring to see what and how children are communicating.
While the means with which bullies can torment their victims have changed, so too has awareness of the problem. He said new laws have been passed that require schools to document every instance, and you should work with the school and stay in communication with teachers. He said the best way for children to keep from being a victim is to find a friend or a group of friends. If one's child is socially awkward, help teach them to interact with their peers.
"One thing that (parents) must do is to tell the children that it is not their fault," he said. "Never blame the child. Tell them that they haven't done anything to deserve that treatment."