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A Survivor of Bullying Speaks Out

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My heart is breaking for parents all over this country. For Hope Witsell's parents, for Asher Brown's, for Tyler Clementi's, and so many more whose names we don't know.

Bullying has always existed. We know this. It's Darwinian: survival of the fittest. But high school is hard enough to survive without worrying that someone is going to beat the everliving snot out of you, or go on Facebook to post awful pictures of you from a party. It used to be that the bullied kids occasionally came home with a bloodied nose or a ripped shirt. Now parents are finding them hanging in their own closets, shamed into killing themselves by their peers.

I was bullied terribly as a pre-teen and teenager. When Phoebe Prince took her own life, I wrote my story for the very first time. It's an ugly part of my past, but sometimes it's important to look at all the wrongs in the world so that we can make it right. Unfortunately, I don't think the kids who bully read the Huffington Post, but maybe you're the parent of a teen and you don't really know if your kid is a bully. Maybe you yourself were a bully, and you've passed that on to your kid. I believe bullying begins at home: a happy kid in a loving family probably won't go to school and mercilessly tease another student.

My sons, ages 11 and 7, each attend schools with zero tolerance policies when it comes to bullying. Most schools probably do, but what isn't reported can't be fixed. The unwritten code in our schools is "Don't Tell And You Won't Get Beat Up Again." And thanks to technology, bullying isn't just the big oaf pounding the weakling into submission at the water fountain; these days, kids are using social media to take their bullying viral. What can the schools do when the bullying leaves the classroom and hits the information superhighway? As we've seen, the answer is often nothing, and with tragic consequences.

I have never been more grateful to have grown up in a time where the worst kids could do to you off the playground was prank-call your house a thousand times a day. A phone could be unplugged back then, a small peace achieved before heading back into battle the next morning. That doesn't happen in our modern era. Today one kid could take a picture of another kid's private area, and within minutes, it's all over the world. I can't imagine being a teenager in 2010. It's already awful, what with the Puberty Fairy wreaking havoc all over your body, inside and out; now everything that happens can be documented and shared with strangers everywhere.

Of course, the biggest problem here is that kids are afraid to speak up when things are bad. The consequences for going to the principal are pretty wretched. You get someone in trouble, and they WILL get you back for it. There is nothing like the heavy weight in your chest when you KNOW you're in for it when that bell rings.

So what can the schools do, other than adopt their own policies against bullying (which older kids ignore anyway)? Establish a peer counseling group, pronto. Peer counselors are essential when it comes to helping teens cope with life issues. If your teen's school doesn't have a peer counseling program, contact the school board immediately and begin the process to get it going. Kids are much more likely to reveal their innermost problems to a friend they can trust. The peer counselors work with the administration, and can tell the faculty what's really going on in the school.

The bullied child also needs a strong support network at home. So many parents of bullied kids say they had no idea it was so bad, and that's a huge problem. Parents are supposed to create a safe environment for their offspring, where no harm comes to them and they can speak freely, knowing they're loved. Of course, that's not the reality for a lot of families. Kids need to know that their parents are there for them, with open hearts, minds, and ears. Think about your child as the baby they used to be: your protective instincts will boil up in an instant. Your baby is still in there, and they need you. Ask your child about his or her life. Listen when your kid says there's something wrong at school. Don't brush it off with a "kids will be kids." And let them know that it gets better.

There will always be bullies as long we give them the power to rule over us with fear. It's time we all stood up against the bullies in our society with our own national zero tolerance policy. We need to come together as parents and make sure this new epidemic stops right now.

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