HALLOWELL — Virginia Parker worries that her children could be bullied when they enter school.
She also watched her 100-year-old grandmother suffer emotional and occasionally physical abuse from her grandfather until he died several years ago.
Those experiences and concerns encapsulated the discussion at Spectrum Generations Cohen Center, which hosted a panel discussion Saturday about the ways that people of any age can be perpetrators or victims of bullying, intimidation or abuse.
Parker said her eldest child, a kindergartener at Readfield Elementary, hasn’t been bullied in school, and she hopes that will be the case when her two younger children enter the school. That’s why she attended the discussion.
“The more information I can get in advance before they get to that point just arms me,” she said. “Bullying is such a big topic. I want to help them avoid it if I can.”
Maggie Tardiff, the center’s director, said despite having a different name, elder abuse — whether by the staff at a residential facility or a family member taking advantage of and older relative — is essentially a form of bullying.
“Generally, when you think of the word bullying, you think of children,” Tardiff said. “And when you think of elder abuse, you do not think of bullying, but it is one and the same thing.”
Panelist Francine McEwen wrote her book “Billy Big Ears and Bob the Bully” to show the perspective of both parties in a case of childhood bullying and the need for compassion and help for bullies. In the book, Bob the Bully needs to find a better way to deal with the shame and anger he feels after being abused by his father.
“We’re making out bullies to be demons,” McEwen said. “They’re also victims. We have to help them. Because if we only help the victim, the bullies are not going to go away.”
McEwen wrote the book for children, but she said many adults, including elderly people, have bought it for themselves.
McEwen told a story about seeing a subtle form of elder abuse against an 85-year-old woman at one of her book signings. The woman’s daughter spoke harshly to her after they became separated, did not help her mother rise from a chair and then rushed out of the building, leaving her mother struggling to catch up.
Audience member Genie Dailey, of Jefferson, who also edited McEwen’s book, said the story made her more aware of the forms abuse can take and mindful of the need for bystanders to speak up when they see something wrong.
“It’s passive aggression, which many people probably wouldn’t recognize as abuse,” Dailey said. “A lot of people would just ignore that and think nothing of that, but it is a passive aggressive action.”
The other panelists were Nan Bell and Nancy Provost, educators for the Family Violence Project. Bell is also a member of the Greater Augusta Elder Abuse Taskforce.
Provost presents lessons to students from preschool to high school, with a common theme of respect for others. That manifests itself as tolerance and anti-bullying messages for young children and information about dating abuse for older students.
Provost has made presentations at about 35 schools in southern Kennebec County, but a few she has contacted have declined to invite her in, even though the program is free to schools.
“They say it’s too sensitive a topic and they don’t want to upset people,” she said. “Or the other reason is that they feel like they’ve got it all covered.”
Parker said she’s concerned that the information Provost presents might not reach parents, some of whom exhibit poor behavior in front of their children or pass along counterproductive ideas, such as telling girls that boys hit or pick on them because they like the girls.
Parker suggested that Provost ask for a few minutes to speak at existing events for parents, such as open-house nights. She also said she would advocate for her children’s school to host the program.
Provost and Bell said they have tried organizing events for parents or the public, but they have had low or zero attendance. About 25 people were present for the discussion at Spectrum Generations.
Amid troubling statistics and stories, the panelists looked for reasons to be positive, such as increasing awareness of bullying and abuse.
“Hearing about it in the news makes it seem like it’s happening more,” Provost said, “but it’s that people are talking about it more.”