As reported in the Huffington Post, to focus attention on National Bullying Prevention Awareness Week, Disney star Demi Lovato has gone public.  She was bullied so much in school that she and her parents chose to do home schooling rather than face the bullies at school.  Her story follows Miley Cyrus telling of being bullied, harassed and abused verbally and physically when she was in school.

These stories follow the recent publicity given  in the New York Times to the “slut list” at “top-ranked, affluent, suburban New Jersey Millburn High School” that’s been going on for at least 10 years.  In this case, it was the “popular and athletic” girls who went after the younger girls.

Notice that these examples were of girls bullying other girls; a common occurrence that often gets lost in the glare of publicity about boys who bully.  These are often the girls who will grow up to be women who bully other women at work.

Cliques of girls are just as brutal as gangs of boys.  And the wounds and scars of verbal and emotional bullying often last a lifetime.

I hope the publicity will stimulate people who can change the situation.  Who do I mean?

  • Bullies and their parents.  Ultimately, bullies are responsible for their actions no matter what their excuses and justifications are.  And their parents are responsible for not teaching or setting better examples for their daughters.  In too many cases, they’re also responsible for minimizing the effects of their daughter’s behavior on the target girls and for protecting their daughters from the appropriate consequences of their actions.

But bullies have been with us forever and will continue to be.  We can’t wait for all parents to socialize their children better or for all children to change.

  • Parents of the targeted girls.  They are often remiss in three areas.  First, if they don’t teach their daughters how to stand up emotionally, verbally and physically.  Yes, sometimes, physical force is necessary to stop bullying girls, just as it is often effective in stopping bullying boys.

Second, if parents don’t organize a core group of active parents to support principals who want to stop bullying or to force uncaring, lazy or cowardly principals to stop bullying at their schools.  When bullies are tolerated at a school, they prey on many targets.

Third, if parents don’t pressure reluctant legislators to make laws that can be enforced.  Often legislators focus on free speech, even when the pendulum is shifting to limit some speech in an effort to protect children.

  • Targeted girls.  They can develop the emotional strength and courage, and learn skills necessary to stand up to bullies, even if their parents don’t teach them well.
  • Principals who won’t act.  For example, the principal at Millburn said that there was no evidence to determine who made the list; no one had come forward to identify the predators.  Funny, I’ll bet almost every kid at school knows who organizes and publicizes the “slut list” on Facebook and through cell phones.  Principals can have proactive stop-bullying policies and programs, vetted by school district lawyers, that enroll all students, including bystanders, in outing and stopping school bullies.  I focus on principals because strong, active principals set the tone.  They involve district administrators and train teachers and staff.
  • Legislators who are willing to victimize children rather than taking a strong stand against harassment, abuse and bullying.  Maybe angry parents need to make this an election issue.

Notice that I haven’t focused on understanding and therapeutizing bullies.  Let’s stop them first.  That can motivate bullies to learn other tactics.

I haven’t focused on statistics either.  Statistics may be important in swaying congressmen, but when there’s bullying at your child’s school or your child is being bullied, you don’t pay much attention to statistics.  You want your immediate situation changed.

If Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato and the kids at top-ranked, affluent, suburban schools can be bullied, harassed and abused your daughter can be also.

Resources cited: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/10/09/stop-bullying-in-schools_n_315685.html and http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/27/weekinreview/27kelly.html?_r=1&emc=tnt&tntemail0=y

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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