Current statistics show that bullying is prevalent – over 50% of kids report being bullied or observing bullying.  Bullying by girls is just as prevalent as by boys (although they often use different tactics) and bullying in “good” neighborhoods is just as prevalent as in “bad” ones.

Most parents want to understand why bullies bully, “Is it because bullies have low esteem, or they lust for power or that’s the only way they know how to get control and admiration?”  Those parents usually tell their children never to use violence to stop bullies.  “Violence never solved anything.  Don’t stoop to the bullies’ level.”

Those parents hope that understanding bullies will help them create programs that will rehabilitate bullies.  Then their kids will be safe when they’re away from home or when they’re online.

Parents who say those things are the number one risk factor in making their children targets of repeated bullying.  Their strategy is based on the false idea that if children love and forgive bullies enough, they’ll melt bullies’ hearts and bullies will stop bullying and become their friends.  That strategy rarely stops bullies.

Real bullies won’t stop harassing or abusing our children because they’re nice to them.  Ask the peace-loving people of every country run over by colonization or empire building.  Ask women who have tried to stop harassment, bullying and abuse at work.

Bullying patterns or coping strategies are usually life-long.  Unless they’re stopped, bullying children usually grow up to become bullying adults.  They’re bullies in their love lives, they’re parents who bully their children, they’re bullying soccer-parents and they’re bullies at work.

Similarly, bullied kids grow up with low self-esteem and low confidence; they expect to be beaten down – mentally, emotionally and physically – to be taken advantage of, to lose.  They become repeat victims.

The number one risk factor in our children’s becoming targets of repeated bullying is not bullies or schools – the number one risk factor is us, the parents of the targets.  Bullies have always existed and will always exist, most schools never protected kids and many still won’t.

Take your focus away from psychotherapy of bullies.  Focus instead on stopping bullying right now.  After you stop the bullying, then you can spend all the time you want rehabilitating individual bullies.  As you well know, rehabilitating bullies can take a long time.  I want to protect target children right now.

In order to protect our children, we, as parents, must change our mindsets and then we must learn skills.  We must develop a real-world mindset – that the only way to stop real bullies is to stop them.

In the real world, bullies are predators, like hyenas, looking for the weak and isolated people who don’t know how to protect themselves.  Real bullies have a language all their own – they take our children’s kindness, reasonableness or holding back as weakness and a sign of easy prey. Our kids’ weakness brings out the worst in bullies.

A real-world perspective is that it’s more important to stop bullies first; that counseling, therapy and rehabilitation efforts come second.  In fact, stopping bullying behavior and having stiff consequences for kids who bully repeatedly is one of the best steps in changing their behavior.

We must teach our children to protect themselves from bullies who haven’t learned impulse control or to use other means to navigate in the world.  A few real-world steps are:

  1. Of course, try ignoring the bully or try peaceful and kindly understanding tactics, but don’t stop there.
  2. Learn to fight back verbally.
  3. Have friends who’ll stand with you and come back at the bully.
  4. Learn to fight back physically – especially boys, but also girls.
  5. Learn when and how to get school principals, counselors, teachers, staff and administrators involved.

A few real-world tips for parents are:

  1. Let our children know we’ll protect them.  If they’re being bullied, it’s not their fault – they just haven’t learned how to protect themselves.  Keep their courage, hope and fighting spirit alive.
  2. Learn how to force your school principals, counselors, teachers, staff and administrators to protect your kids.  Organize a small core group of parents to help the principal create and implement an effective stop-bullying program.  Be pro-active.  Don’t wait for a bullied kid to commit suicide, get that program going right now!

Ben Leichtling, Ph.D. is author of the books and CDs “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids” and “Eliminate the High cost of Low Attitudes.” He is available for coaching, consulting and speaking.  To find practical, real-world tactics to stop bullies and bullying at home, school, work and in relationships, see his web site (http://www.BulliesBeGone.com) and blog (http://www.BulliesBeGoneBlog.com).

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