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Bullying is way too common
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Several of my friends and I have been absolutely amazed at the stories on the news and Web sites of extreme bullying among youth.
What has happened to that internal sense of conscious that applies a barometer for what is acceptable and that stops one from socially unacceptable behavior?
It's one thing to be teased by a sibling or a friend. But when it aims to hurt, the behavior crosses the line and becomes bullying.
Bullying is intentional tormenting in physical, verbal, or psychological ways. Some kids bully by shunning others, mocking them, call names or spread rumors, while others are very physical in their behavior and hit, shove and threaten their victim, often stealing their possessions. The use of email, chat rooms or instant messages has created a new arena for taunting or tormenting others.
When I think of bullies, I am reminded of living on a street dominated by boys with a leader who chased me, threatening things that were probably impossible. To level the playing field, my dad taught me to box. When the time came for me to display my new-founded skill, my younger and feisty sister stepped in. She turned the water hose on my tormentor and followed it with a mud pie smack in his face while he was still blinking water from his eyes. Five years younger than the bully, my sister and I never had trouble with anyone on our street again.
I am also reminded of going to school every day during play period to make sure my second grade child didn't get knocked around. Because I volunteered at school, it took the teachers several days to realize and ask why I was there instead of volunteering in a classroom.  But from then on, the bully was watched carefully by all the teachers.
It's important to take bullying seriously. And that goes for the bully as well as the victim. Our children have to be our priority. They shouldn't have to just brush such treatment off, "tough it out" or grow out of it. The effects can be serious and can affect a child's sense of self-worth and future.
Most victims feel it's their fault, that if they looked or acted differently it wouldn't happen to them. Few tell their parents because they're scared that if the bully finds out, it will get worse. Others are worried their parents won't believe them or do anything about it. They also worry their parents will urge them to fight back when they're too scared.
Youth bully for a variety of reasons.
1. They may pick on kids because they need a victim to feel more important, popular or in control.
2. Youth may torment others because that's the way they've been treated. They may think their behavior is normal. Some TV shows appear to promote meanness -- people are "voted off," shunned, or ridiculed for their appearance or lack of talent.
3. A gang mentality, whether it's a true gang or a group of girls led by mean spirited bullies, will often allow youth to do and say things they would never do as individuals.
Parents may not be aware of what their child is going through unless they have bruises or injuries or unless the child suddenly seek ways to stay home. But there are warning signs;
• your child acting differently or seems anxious, is not eating, sleeping well or doing the things he or she usually enjoys.
• your child may seem moodier or more easily upset than usual, or when they start avoiding certain situations, like taking the bus to school. And; if
• your child becomes reluctant to discuss his behavior. To rule out the presence of a bully, try talking about experiences you or another family member had at that age or use similar situations occurring in the news.
Be sure to let your child know that if she or someone else is, it is important to talk to someone about it. If they don't wish to talk with you, offer the names of other adults (teacher, school counselor, church youth director or family friend), or a sibling.
Should your child tell you about a bully, make sure you offer comfort and support, no matter how upset you are. Praise your child for being brave enough to talk and remind them he or she isn't alone, a lot of people get bullied but that it doesn't have to continue. Make sure they understand that it's not their fault, that it is the bully who is behaving badly and that you will figure out what to do together.
When possible, talk with an older sibling or your child's friend and get their perspective. This may help work out the best solution. Find out how your child has tried dealing with this situation and what has resulted. Discuss alternative responses and when possible, praise their actions.
Find out about the laws and policies dealing with bullying in your community and school. If you have serious concerns about your child's safety, contact legal authorities but you should talk with school counselors and teachers first. They can and should help mediate if you wish to talk with the parents of the bully. If you discover, however, that the bullying has gotten worse because your child told you, talk with the school, local authorities and the friends (and their parents) of your child. Work out a buddy system that stresses walking away and ignoring the bully but seek remedies available through all systems and make sure everyone understands the options. Bullies thrive on making their victim visually upset, so teach your child to practice "cool down" strategies, wear a "poker face" and to walk away.
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