After working with children and teens for over fourteen years in the public school system as a teacher and counselor, I have witnessed the tears, suicide notes, gripping fear and rage that are only part of the damage done when lives are infected by bullies.  One of my most terrible memories is speaking at the funeral of one teenager on whom bullying took its final toll.  

Bullying is a form of behavior used to negatively affect others where there is an "imbalance of power."  This "imbalance" may be perceived social or physical power and may be based on the grounds of race, gender, sexuality, religion or other perceived positions.  Bullies like to dominate others and are very "self" focused.  While some bullies believe they have the right to treat others as they choose, many bullies are simply insecure.  Some bullies are victims of bullying themselves and others suffer from mental disorders and need psychiatric attention.  It is estimated that 1 out of every 4 bullies will have a criminal record by the time they are 30 years old. Regardless of the reason, one thing stands true--bullying hurts.  I know that to be true, first hand. 

Growing up, I was slightly overweight and the children in my neighborhood consistently reminded me that I was inadequate.  I cried myself to sleep many nights, wondering how I could be so ugly. Fortunately, I grew six inches the summer I turned thirteen and when I returned to school for the fall, I was not only one of the tallest girls in the school, but also, the THINNEST.  This change brought the popularity and acceptance I had so desperately wanted.  Unfortunately, it did not bring the same change on the inside.  I repeatedly heard one message in my own head-- "You are unacceptable."  I achieved awards, high honors and was even a finalist in beauty pageants, but the damage done by those neighborhood bullies was so deeply ingrained, I struggled to believe the truth. 

Fortunately, I had parents and friends who encouraged me and helped me deal with the horrible results of being bullied.  I learned to combat my insecurities and eventually, I was able to move past those haunting messages.  As a result of my experience, I have a passion for reaching students and parents with practical solutions for dealing with bullying and its devastating effects. 

Today, a whole new level of pain and embarrassment is used on kids and adults via "Cyberbullying."  Cyberbullying is the use of technology to harass, threaten, embarrass or target another person.  It can involve emails, texts, Facebook postings, photos, or any other media posted that is intended to intentionally harm another person.   In many states, arrests have been made when cyber bullying is used as a tool of discrimination against someone regarding religion, race, or other differences.   Cyber bullying is particularly damaging because the victim can be harassed 24/7 and the source is hard to trace.  Cyber bullies know they may not have to confront their victims if they can stay anonymous. 

While it is important not to respond to a cyber bully, it is necessary to save evidence of the bullying.  Place the evidence on a flash drive so that you don't have to see the continual reminders of the bully’s remarks.   Report bullying to your service provider, or block the bully from sending texts, notes or emails.  Most of all, password protect your cell phone and online sites, changing your passwords often. 

There are many steps that parents can take as preventative measures for bullying and should be taught in the home to their children: 

  • Teach zero tolerance for any type of bullying behavior.
  • Show positive examples of acceptance of others via family time, the newspaper, magazines, tv, etc.
  • Discuss appropriate ways to handle/display anger.
  • Teach words of reconciliation and empathy such as "I'm sorry, please forgive me."
  • Discuss movie scenes that involve bullying.  As a family, discuss the appropriate behavior that should have taken place in bullying situations. 

Parents, if you are made aware that your child is being bullied – listen.  Your child needs to be heard.  Avoid interrogating words such as “why” and “you.” Let your child feel their feelings and reassure him/her it is normal to feel hurt, angry, scared or alone when they are bullied. Find out if there are other victims by talking with other parents. Talk to school officials about their anti-bullying policies and procedures.