Listening to Victims of Bullying and Following the New Law

*You likely heard that Massachusetts is finally considering an anti-bullying law. It’s about time!

My kids have both been bullied over the years…have yours? It is one of the most challenging situations to handle in all of parenting and the dramatic increase in technology among today’s kids and teens and made bullying via technology a contributing factor. 25% of kids being bullied is too many already. 42% of kids being cyber-bullied is unthinkable…but is the estimated number being victimized via technology.

The impact of bullying on my kids lives wasn’t readily evident until I asked my 12 year old some questions for a book I was working on. I asked her the following question: “What are the biggest threats to your childhood today?” I had asked that to her older sister, almost 16, and heard answers such as too much homework, not enough time for friends and family, too much use of technology, too much pressure. My 12 year old turned to me and said “Bullies. I was bullied and it took something from me. It could happen again, you know.”

Of my two girls, she had the worst of the bullying and one of the situations was recent. We had thought she had “dealt with it” but clearly it was still plaguing her…she was almost carrying it around like a permanent tattoo, just under the skin, out of site, but palpable.

What we fail to realize as parents it that kids don’t categorize situations as we do. Situations we view as “not bad” or “mild” are still incredibly painful. In fact, in the case of bullying, all bullying hurts and its extremely challenging to categorize it. We can look back after the fact in some cases, such as the tragic suicide death of Phoebe Phoenix of South Hadley High School in South Hadley, Massachusetts, and recognize how intense that was with nothing being done.  However, all bullying is intense and does escalate. That means that we have to pay attention to each and every report of bullying and stop it before it gets to the point of no return for the victim and before they feel so helpless that he or she reaches for some extreme cry for help, as Phoebe did. Those extreme cries for help mean that the system and adults within that system have let that child down and failed to protect that child.

Massachusetts passing an anti-bullying law is an important measure but will mean nothing if schools and communities don’t do better in listening to children and protecting them when they turn to a trusted adult and say “I need help…I’ve been bullied”.

Bullying is a violent act. It’s time we take a stand for all our kids and simply say “No more! This ends today.”

*September 2010 Addendum to original column: When I first wrote this column, in early March of 2010, Massachusetts was just about to pass it’s anti-bullying law.  Two months later, Governor Patrick signed that bill into law. The law addresses bullying, cyberbullying and education of all staff and students. Here’s a well written review of the law and the issues.