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Q. What are some things I can talk to my son about, to help prevent him from being bullied?


It could be another piece of fallout from the many social problems caused by the breakdown of the traditional family. But bullying is on the rise. Kids punch, slap, push and kick each other on the playground, steal each other's lunch money, rip apart backpacks, ruin jackets, call each other horrible names, force other students to serve them like a slave, spread lies and rumors, purposely exclude them, make racial or gender-based insults . . . it's sad story. And with the increase in cell phones among young teens, and Instant Messaging, technology has complicated the picture, because bullies can hide behind technology to conceal their identities, or use it to spread the humiliation even further.


In a U.S. study of more than 15,000 students in grades 6-10 a few years ago, 17 percent reported having been bullied "sometimes" or more often during the school term, and 8 percent had been bullied at least once a week. Nineteen percent of the students surveyed had bullied others "sometimes" or more often during the term, and 9 percent had bullied other students at least once a week (Nansel, 2001).


Bullying is thought to be a big reason for the increase in student absenteeism, as kids try to avoid being terrorized. It should be suspected when a child has a lot of ambiguous ailments, such as headaches and stomachaches, that the child tries to use to get out of going to school.


But parents aren't powerless, and neither are students. Here are some prevention tips:


n       Don't be a loner. There's safety in numbers. As wolves attack the slowest member of the flock, a bully will go for an isolated student, not one who's in a group. Encourage your child to have friendships both in and out of school.


n       To become more resilient, it's always a good idea to have a few sports, hobbies and interests that you can feel good about. A bullying episode won't be as devastating to a child who has lots of competence in lots of areas, and lots of other things to think about. And if you're busy and active, you won't look like such an easy target to a bully.


n       Bullies want attention, whether it's positive or negative. If someone mean is trying to get your attention, don't look at him or her, and don't reply - not even to tell them to quit it. Remember the old adage, "Give them an inch and they'll take a mile." Don't give them that inch! The same way you get a puppy to quit nipping at you for attention - firmly moving away and neither yelling nor petting - is the way to get a bully to back off.


n       But that doesn't mean the child should ignore the bullying. Never do that! Pretending that it is not happening is just what the bully wants you to do. Instead, tell a parent or a trusted adult at school and brainstorm solutions and strategies.


n       When your child talks to you about being bullied, never blame the child or criticize his or her actions. Instead, give warmth, empathy, hugs and a listening ear. Don't ever encourage the child to seek vengeance or get into a physical fight. Instead, document the dates, times and what happened of each episode, and then work with the adults at school to resolve the situation in a way that will help your child feel good about school again.


n       If the bully hasn't stopped, then maneuver yourself to where there are witnesses. Bullies like secrecy, so don't be alone in a place where no one else might see or hear what the bully is trying to do to you. That's true of coming to and going from school, going to the restroom, going out to recess, or wherever you are. They don't have to be adult witnesses - just another set of eyes and ears besides your own. Bullies hate being held accountable by neutral third parties, because they always come out looking like they are - bullies.


n       Sometimes children don't want anybody else to know. They think they'll be ashamed. But the opposite is true. Take your child outside at night where there are bugs on the ground, and shine a flashlight. They'll scatter. It's the same thing when light shines on a bully: sooner or later, when people find out, the problem will end.


Homework: Good resources on this topic are available at


By Susan Darst Williams Discipline & Safety 06 2008


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