published Sunday, October 28th, 2012

Baumgardner: Bullying is worthy of ongoing dialogue

Julie Baumgardner

Kaelynn (last name withheld) tells of being physically, sexually abused and about the death of her mother. Suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, she started stuttering. Classmates called her methhead, orphan, worthless, a mistake, faker and retard.

She said, "I was hated for being myself, and I began to hate myself."

None of Kaelynn's classmates had any idea what she had been through. She attempted suicide in fifth grade. Her attempt failed, and today she is speaking out against bullies.

October is designated as Bully Prevention Month. Bullying is nothing new, but it seems as though it has been taken to a whole new level. Has our culture become a place where anything goes? It clearly is not just young people who are participating in mean acts; adults are as well. What has happened to human decency and treating each other with respect even when we disagree?

The dictionary defines a bully as someone who is quarrelsome, overbearing, who habitually badgers and intimidates.

Could your child be the bully? Is your child being bullied? How would you know?

If you haven't started a discussion with your children about bullying, now would be a good time to start. Here are some questions to get things going:

• Is conflict different than bullying? All relationships have conflict. Just because others don't share your opinion or agree with your perspective does not mean they are a bully. Bullying is when they treat you disrespectfully, are mean to you over and over again and intentionally seek to embarrass or harass you because of your point of view.

• What do you do if you see someone being bullied? Don't assume that your children will automatically stand up for the person being bullied. Talk with them about how they would handle this situation. The research shows that if just one person stands up for the person being bullied, it can change the entire situation. But it is hard even for adults to step out and go against the crowd. If it doesn't feel safe to say something, go get help.

• If you are being bullied, what will you do? Parents assume that if their child is being bullied they will say something, but studies show that is not the case. Most kids who are being bullied do not tell their parents because they are afraid that they will make the situation worse. Talk through the steps your children can take if they believe they are being bullied. Make sure they know that they can come to you and you will help them work through the situation.

As the parent, it is your job to pay attention. Keep the lines of communication open. Be open and honest about this topic so that if something happens, you child is prepared.

Email Julie Baumgardner at julieb@firstthings.org.

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