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Help your children avoid being bullied

January 25, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
Plenty of parents feel helpless to stop bullies from picking on their kids. But now parents can get help. Here's more on "bully-proofing" your child.School should be a place where kids go to learn and make new friends. But for one mom, it's a place where her son gets teased and bullied.

"They marked him from the beginning on the first day of kindergarten," said one mother, who didn't want to be identified on camera.

The bullying is so bad, she's decided not to show their faces, fearful it will just make things worse.

"I spoke with the bus driver," said the mom. "I've spoken with each teacher that he's had."

Nothing worked. So now she's turning to Dr. Joel Haber, a psychologist who says parents can help their kids become "bully-proof."

"A parent calls me in desperation because their kid has been bullied. They don't know what to do and their kid doesn't want to go back to school," said Haber.

Haber says how a parent reacts can mean the difference between helping their child and making things worse.

"Most parents feel that rush of adrenaline, that emotion, and they want to take control of it themselves," said Haber.

Haber says that's a big mistake.

"They cut off their kid from talking to them," said Haber.

He shows this mom how to talk to her son about the bullying and then role-play ways to defuse it.

"Show me how you get picked on," said Haber. "And I'll try to show you a way that won't work, and then I'll show you a way that will work."

But role-playing doesn't work with older kids because most of their bullying happens online.

"Kids are way ahead of parents on technology, and parents need the skills to deal with that so they feel safe when their kids are using technology," said Haber.

So he has different advice for parents dealing with cell phones, Facebook and MySpace.

"My goal always is when parents bring technology into a home is have them just set up parameters and rules," said Haber.

His number one rule? Tell your kids cell phones and computers are a privilege and will be taken away if they are used for hurtful behavior. He also advises parents to Google their child periodically and "friend" them on Facebook to keep tabs on their online lives. Save and print all evidence of cyber-bullying and learn the language of the Internet to monitor your kid's texts.

"We recommend that you keep the computer or the laptop in a central location that allows you to be able to see what's going on," said Michelle Boykins, National Crime Prevention Council.

Boykins points to research which shows bullying of any kind can have long-lasting effects on kids.

"This is so devastating to our young people," said Boykins. "They experience a drop in grades, isolation, they have mood swings and depression."

And it's alarmingly common.

"In our research we found that 43 percent of kids report being the victim of bullying," said Boykins.

A key tip: don't encourage your child to fight. That's something Haber also teaches kids.

"If you hit them back, you're going to get into trouble," said Haber.

This mom is waiting for the day her son can look forward to going to school.

Another recent survey found that in the past 12 months, 52 percent of students reported having hit someone in anger, so clearly there's a need for parents and their children to find positive, healthy and non-violent ways to deal with bullying.