If you are a parent, I just want to ask you for five minutes. I think that's all it should take to make you think differently about bullying, an issue most of us don't spend a lot of time on. It's a terrible problem we read about, hear about and feel bad about. But too many of us look at bullying and think "Well, it's not my problem." Well, look harder-- it is.
Here's what I want you to think about: your kid doesn't have to be a bully or the bullied to be affected or have a role to play in solving the problem. In fact, the bystander might make all the difference in the world in stopping this epidemic in its tracks.
For the parents of the bullied, you may know your child is endangered, but like many parents you aren't sure how much of an impact it's having on your child or how to stop it, so you do nothing. And if you are the parent of a bully, chances are you have spent a lot of time convincing yourself "this is just what kids do" rather than facing the issue seriously as a family.
But the real opportunity to change the cycle of bullying is found with the bystander. Those kids who see it happening, but not knowing what to do, do nothing. There is a good chance that this is how bullying affects your child. And there is something you can do for them - something that could not only help them, but help those kids who are being bullied.
What makes this such a challenge is that, for the most part, kids just aren't talking. All the research shows that bullied children keep their anguish to themselves. They feel shame at being victimized and are embarrassed to tell their parents that they need help. But the kids who witness what's going on -- the bystanders - are victims too. They stay mum, afraid that if they "tell on" the bully, they'll become the next victim or be ostracized by their peers.
So what can you do?
Today, after a year and a half of research and outreach, we are launching a nationwide campaign with the Ad Council, the U.S. Department of Education and my Free to Be Foundation, and are releasing public service announcements directed at parents. The message is simple. Talk to your children. Engage them on the issue of bullying. Poke. Probe. Be supportive. Be proactive. Let them know you are there for them. Give them good advice backed by experts.
Here is what the experts say. Encourage your kids to:
- Talk to adults about bullying and what is happening to them. If not you, encourage them to also talk to trusted teachers, coaches or others. Make them understand it's OKAY to tell someone what they see.
- Encourage them to help the person being bullied get away from the situation.
- Tell them to be a friend to the person being bullied. Small actions and support can be a lifeline. Help them empathize with the victims.
- Be a leader by setting a good example - do not bully others. And that means explaining what bullying really is.
- This is very important - Don't give bullying an audience. Many bullies thrive on having other kids see what they are doing.
Whichever parent you are - of a bully, the bullied, or more likely than not, the bystander -- it is time for all of us to get more involved. The epidemic of bullying must be confronted. Parents, it is up to you. If you think bullying is not a factor in your child's life, I urge you to look deeper into your child's moods, their actions, and engage them.
Because what you don't know may be the thing that your son or daughter is worrying about every day. Bullying can leave emotional scars more serious than a bruise.
A friend just recently told me that his son was as happy as he has seen him in years. When I asked why, he said he asked his son that very question. He had just changed schools. His son said, "This is the first time in three years I don't have to worry about being bullied." My friend was stunned. He never knew his son had been a victim of bullying.
Now that you've given me five minutes, is it okay to ask for a couple more? Click on this link to watch a story that I was a part of this morning on "The Today Show." It's a story about parents who wish they had found out earlier about a bullying situation involving their child.
I also want to thank AOL, Facebook, Johnson & Johnson, the Free To Be Foundation, the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services and the Waitt Institute for Violence Prevention, each of which have supported this campaign.
Moms and Dads, no one is counting on you more than your kids. We, you, the kids - we've all got to be in this together.
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