Bully Busters (Tips for preventing bullying)

If you haven’t been following the story of Jamey Rodemeyer, you need to start now.

Jamey Rodemeyer was a 14 year old boy from Buffalo, NY who took his life shortly after posting a farewell message on his Facebook page.

Jamey was tormented by an identifiable group of teens for at least a year, but far longer according his parents.  Jamey was tormented by hate comments with gay references on social networking sites.  On one site, where anonymous postings are the norm, bullies made reference to the fact that no one would care if he were to die.  That’s not the case.

The Buffalo police launched a criminal investigation into the case.  It won’t bring Jamey back, but hopefully it will send a clear message.

Lady Gaga is also on the case.  She intends to meet with the President to discuss making bullying a crime, and she recently dedicated a song to Jamey at the IHeartRadioFestival in Las Vegas.  She’s also asking Twitter to trend #MakeALawForJamey

The National Education for Educational Statistics reports that 28% of students ages 12-18 admit to be bullied during the 2008-2009 school year.  The most cited forms of bullying include ridicule and rumors, with cyber bullying on the rise.

Bullying is becoming an epidemic.  Lady Gaga is right:  Bullying should be illegal.

We all have to do our part to take a stand on bullying in our own communities.  And it has to start at home.  Below are some tips to help you bully proof your child:

1.   Teach your child about bullying:  For years parents have been avoiding family discussions about bullying with the hope that it just won’t happen.  It’s happening everywhere.  Explain bullying to your children.  Make sure that they understand that bullying includes teasing and rumor spreading, not just physical aggression.  It’s up to you to make sure that your children truly understand what bullying is and how it affects others.

2.   Allow for open communication:  Create an atmosphere where your kids feel comfortable coming to you with their concerns.  Be open, objective, and honest with your kids when they come to you with concerns about friendship issues, even if you suspect that your child might be bullying another.  If our kids are afraid to talk to us, we can’t help them.  Be there for them.

3.   Set clear rules and be consistent:  Kids need to understand rules and boundaries.  They need to know that limits exist to keep them safe.  Make your house rules clear and apply them no matter where you are.  Be consistent in applying the rules and helping your kids make better choices.  Rules only work if they are used consistently.  This is not a negative.  Rules exist to keep everyone healthy and safe from harm.

4.   Teach empathy:  I cover this topic regularly, so I will keep it brief.  Teach your children to think about how another person might feel when being teased or left out.  Teach your children to reach out to friends who are feeling sad or frustrated.  Teach your children to care about others.

5.   Take a stand on aggression:  If I have to hear “boys will be boys” one more time…I get it.  I have a boy.  He jumps from furniture and literally attempts to climb the walls.  Would you like to know what he’s NOT allowed to do?  Hit.  Punch.  Kick. Push.  Bite.  Stop physical aggression immediately, whether it’s within the family or out in the community.  Kids need to learn healthy alternatives to physical aggression.  It’s up to you to teach them.

6.   Respect differences:  When you really get down to it, we’re all different.  Race, religion, parenting styles, interests, abilities, food preferences…the list goes on.  Teach your children the value of learning from someone else.  Help your children see that different can be very good, and can open their eyes to a new way of doing things.  Teach them to show the same respect to everyone, regardless of differences.  You would think that in 2011 this wouldn’t make the list…sadly, it does.

7.   Model conflict resolution strategies:  If you yell and scream every time you have a conflict with your partner or get frustrated with your kids, your kids will do the same.  If you resort to name calling and teasing when you’re frustrated, your kids will do the same.  Model appropriate ways to cope with frustration.  Teach them to walk away, take a few deep breaths, write it down first, etc.  Teach them how to react without bullying.  If you use physical aggression as a means to discipline your kids…GET HELP NOW.

8.   Know what’s happening:  Whether you are a working parent or not, life can get busy and it’s easy to lose track of what’s happening at school.  Try not to rely on your child’s reports alone.  Know what’s going on at the school.  Forge friendships with other parents and support one another.  Contact the teacher if your child appears withdrawn and/or avoids social contact.  With so many students in each school and a heavy focus on making the grade, social issues can fall through the cracks until it’s too late.  Stay on top of it.

9.   Encourage strengths and interests:  With college becoming more and more expensive, and more and more competitive, parents are always looking for the right track to get their kids on.  Let them do what they love.  When kids engage in activities that they enjoy, their self-confidence soars.  When kids are self-confident, they are less prone to giving in to peer pressure and better able to stand up for themselves or others.  Maybe golf scholarships are a way to get into college, but cultivating that love of art might just save your child from either being a bully or being bullied.

10.                Increase supervision:  At the end of the day, you are responsible for your kids.  It’s a big job.  If you choose to give your child a Smart Phone complete with email, Facebook and Twitter accounts, and other forms of social networking, you are responsible for supervising all of those accounts.  Sure, kids need some privacy and boundaries.  But they also use technology to target others.  Be prepared to check the text messages and have the email filtered through your account.  Know the passwords for Twitter and Facebook.  Be honest with your kids.  Tell them that access to these outlets comes with supervision.  Have them check their phones in at night to avoid lost sleep due to tech overload and keep the laptops in family rooms.  Monitor usage.  You are responsible for your children.

Bullying is taking the lives of very young children, but it doesn’t have to.  Let’s all agree to do our part to make sure that our children don’t bully.

How has bullying affected your life?


October is LGBT History Month.  Take a moment to focus on teaching respect and acceptance.  Teach your children to empathize with others.

About Katie

Katie Hurley is a Child, Adolescent, and Family Psychotherapist and Parenting Expert in Los Angeles, CA. She works in private practice in the South Bay area of Los Angeles, writes for PBS Parents, Washington Post Parents, and the Huffington Post. She is the author of "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World" (Tarcher/Penguin, 2015) and "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" (Penguin Random House, 2018)