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Column: Thoughts from Dr. Joe: Don’t turn a blind eye to bullying among kids in La Cañada

Life often gives us no other option than a frontal assault. In amphibious warfare, one learns you cannot flank a beach. So, let me get right to the point: It appears to me that bullying has become a persistent problem at La Cañada High School.

Just when locals are enjoying the news of our high school’s statewide prominence in English and math, there are posts on the La Cañada parents social media page concerning bullying. Those school rankings don’t mean a hill of beans to me, anyway. What’s important is the moral and character development of the children. But how the heck do you measure that?

The ancient Greek playwright Sophocles in “Antigone” expressed, “No one loves the messenger who brings bad news.” It is human nature to kill the messenger. But, according to Sophocles, the messenger is the one who holds up a mirror and, as we stare into its glare, we gain a glimpse of who we are. Sometimes, it’s hard to admit to what we’ve seen in that piece of glass.

I’d bet you a dollar to a doughnut that bullying isn’t limited to our town. But, if we are to discuss this issue, we need to agree that bullying exists in La Cañada. To state that it’s merely a playground ritual or the banter expected on the school bus during the rite of passage places the issue in a suspended state of unreality. Well, then. That attitude brings an end to the dialogue and assures that bullying will continue. A weakened sense of responsibility to act does not we should consider the necessity of responsibility weakened.


My view of life is of a continuing ballet between the protagonist and the antagonist. If you don’t care to look back into history, take a look at the political climate in America today. Some Congressional leaders are unable to have a peaceful meal in a restaurant without being shouted down. And, take a look at POTUS. From athletics to social media it appears that all debate is vitriolic. So, no one need wonder where our children are learning this behavior.

I understand the contention, which many have, that these behaviors seem an inevitable part of growing up. But I remain skeptical. Perhaps then, the first question about bullying is to define it. The Department of Justice says, “Bullying involves acts where there’s a real or perceived imbalance of power, with the more powerful child or group attacking those who are less powerful.”

When you break down the psycho-babble, you understand the definition covers physical abuse, verbal abuse and psychological abuse. The hand prints of the bullies, like a slap on the face, remain stark and defined on the souls of their victims.

I’d rather not focus on the bully. Such people are typically cowards and are the least of us. I question the parenting they receive. Bullies eventually atrophy and their lack of compassion for others will initiate their demise. In the end, are we not answerable for the kind of persons we have made of ourselves?


Believe me, I’m not the poster boy regarding this subject. Where I’m from, one stands up to a bully regardless of circumstance. Bullies fill the hole in their heart by preying on perceived weakness. In the Bronx, we didn’t “use our words” to settle problems with bullies. As a matter of fact, I never heard that expression until I moved to California.

It’s tragic when a child is abused. Imagine what this does to their esteem and their willingness to be a full participant in life. The parents of these perpetrators need to admit there’s a problem and take action. If any of us should see bullying happening, we must ourselves step up and put a stop to it.

Joe Puglia is a practicing counselor, a retired professor of education and a former officer in the Marines. His wife, Kaitzer, is a member of the La Cañada school board. Reach him at Visit his website at