Jadin Bell was a member of the La Grande High School cheerleading team in La Grande, Oregon. A 15-year-old sophomore, Jadin was gay. Intensely bullied both in person and on the internet, his suicide raised the national consciousness regarding incidences of youth bullying. Tragically, the statistics on bullying and teen suicide are appalling:

  • Over 280,000 high school students are physically bullied every month.
  • 59% of U.S. teens have been bullied or harassed online.
  • Students who experienced bullying or cyberbullying are nearly two times more likely to attempt suicide.
  • Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among individuals 10-34 years of age.

In our current culture, bullying is epidemic, and its impact upon children is tragic. Parents need to provide bully-proofing skills to protect their children against the physical, verbal, and emotional abuse that is rampant among children and youth today. There are two general categories of bullying: traditional bullying and cyber bullying.

Dealing with traditional bullying

The type of bullying that many of today’s adults experienced when they were kids is now called “traditional bullying.” There are several types of traditional bullying: physical bullying, verbal bullying, and social bullying.

  • Physical bullies push, hit, and kick their victim and steal or damage their victim’s property.
  • Verbal bullies use words to hurt, demean, or humiliate their victim by calling names, throwing out insults, or making racist or sexist comments.
  • Social bullies try to convince others to exclude or reject someone. They try to sever their victim’s social connections. These bullies (usually girls) do this through gossip or by spreading rumors.

Bullying may take on any of these forms, but it has the same devastating effect.

Giving children the tools with which to cope with “physical bullying” can be an important element in the development and strength of their self-esteem. Adults can encourage children to show a confident, assertive attitude when dealing with bullies. Instruct your child, “Even if you have to fake it, act strong because bullies pick on kids that they think are weak.”

Here are five things to tell your kids in helping them to deal with physical bullies:

  1. If you are being bullied, try to avoid being caught alone. Stick close to friends or classmates.
  2. If a bully confronts you, walk away from the bully and ignore him. If the bully doesn’t get a reaction out of you, he might get bored with trying.
  3. Walk tall with your head held high, and look the bully in the eye. Smile at the bully. Try to think up funny responses ahead of time and use them to surprise the bully. A quick and witty response is not what he is hoping for.
  4. Be sure to use a strong, assertive voice without a hint of whining. Use your “strong voice.” Tell the bully, “Leave me alone!”
  5. If you feel that you or another person might be in physical danger, tell an adult. Share your problem with a parent, another family member, or maybe a teacher or counselor. If you find it hard to discuss, write it down and give it to an adult you trust.3

If you become aware that your child is being bullied at school or in the neighborhood, keep a written record of the incidents, including the names of the children involved, the date, what happened, and where it took place. Meet with your child’s teacher and share your concerns in a friendly, non-confrontational way. Also, ask the teacher to investigate and to take action to help stop the bullying. Then, schedule a follow-up conference with the teacher to discuss any actions that have been taken.

Dealing with cyber bullying

Cyber bullying is a type of bullying that uses internet and social media to harass and embarrass other kids. It can employ text-messaging, emailing, sexting, photos, and posts on social media to humiliate, intimidate, and shame the targeted person. It can be even more hurtful and long-lasting than traditional bullying because it can be sent to a wide audience, and it follows the victim anywhere they use their cell phone or log onto the internet. Because the bully can make up an identity or steal one from someone else, the messages often are anonymous, and the victim doesn’t know who the bully is.

Rachel looked at the small screen with horror. The same, anonymous message had appeared on her phone for the past three days. Her picture appeared alongside four other girls from her school, and the caption underneath read:

See pictures of the five ugliest kids
At Tremont Intermediate School.
Vote for the ugliest by clicking here.

Her smartphone had been weaponized, used as an instrument of hate to war against, and to diminish, her vulnerable, sixteen-year-old spirit. Her brain immediately triggered a “fight or flight” response, with an accompanying rush of blood to her major muscle groups. Her body tensed up; and, deprived of normal blood flow to her brain and stomach, she felt a slight headache and no appetite for the breakfast she knew her mother was preparing. Even much worse than the physical trauma was the devastating emotional pain. The feelings of shame and humiliation seemed almost unbearable. She desperately wanted to skip school that day but knew that her mother would insist she go. Sick at heart, she thought, maybe it’s time to tell Mom about this.

It’s important that you encourage your child to tell you immediately if she is being cyber bullied. Assure her that you will help her and that she doesn’t have to suffer alone. If you discover that your child is being cyber bullied, here are seven things you can do:

  1. Discourage your child from responding to the cyber bullying.
  1. Instruct your child to block communication with the cyber bully and to not pass along any cyber bullying messages.
  1. Tell him to share the words or pictures with you (so you can save them as evidence) and then to remove the painful message(s) from his computer.
  1. Try to identify the person(s) doing the cyber bullying.
  1. If the cyber bullying is taking place through the school’s internet system, the school has an obligation to prevent it. Contact the school for help.
  1. Consider contacting the cyber bully’s parents. If you do decide to contact them, do so in writing or over the phone—not in person. Present evidence of the cyber bullying (for example, copies of email messages), and ask them to put a stop to the cyber bullying.
  1. Contact the police–and possibly involve an attorney–if the cyber bullying contains items such as threats of violence, child pornography, sexual exploitation, or a picture of someone taken in a place where she would expect privacy.4

Cyber bullying campaigns usually are not successful without the help, intended or not, of other children who read and respond on the site. And, if given an anonymous method of reporting cyber bullying, kids can put an end to it. Parents can make sure that school officials and community groups provide a way (usually a website) for children to easily and anonymously report bullying.

If your child is being cyber-bullied, it’s important to not be a passive by-stander.  Get involved in stopping it.

Preventing your child from becoming a bully

Bullying is damaging to the lives of both the victim and the bully. Dr. Duane Alexander, Director of the National Institute of Child Health and Development, says, “People who were bullied as children are more likely to suffer from depression and low self-esteem well into adulthood, and the bullies themselves are more likely to engage in criminal behavior later in life.”

Bullies suffer from low self-esteem. Because of their insecurities, they try to put other people down in order to make themselves feel dominant and more powerful. Often, they act the way they do because they themselves have been hurt by bullies in the past––maybe even by a parent or some other family member.

Parents help their children avoid being bullies by:

(1) enabling them to experience feelings of being competent and powerful in positive and constructive ways, and

(2) providing them the love that builds self-esteem–thereby reducing their need to build themselves up by putting down those around them.

Taking action to prevent bullying

The human community itself has a responsibility to see that our children are not bullied. Many schools are now addressing the need for a campus-wide anti-bullying program. If your child is experiencing problems with a bully, talk to the school about implementing an anti-bullying program on the campus. Most bullies “play to the crowd,” and, if the crowd has the courage and compassion to say, “Stop that!” “That’s not funny!” “That’s cruel!” the bullying will end.

We must teach our children that remaining silent when another person is being hurt is not acceptable and that they must take action to prevent bullying from taking place. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

The most valuable role that a parent can play in “bully-proofing” a child is to extend the unconditional love that allows a child to continue to value himself in spite of the hurtful words and actions of others. Armed with the sure knowledge that he is valued and loved–no matter what–a child can acquire the skills that prevent him from being emotionally traumatized by the verbal taunts, physical intimidation, and cyber-cruelty of bullies.

Dr G

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