Here's how to make sure your kids don't share the same fate.
Teen queen Demi Lovato seems to have it all: A starring role next to Joe Jonas in "Camp Rock," an upcoming Disney TV show ("Sonny With a Chance"), a hit CD, and a million-dollar smile. But she told Entertainment Weekly that life was anything but perfect back in school in Texas. ''I asked to leave public school,'' she says. ''I was kind of bullied. I had a hate wall in the bathroom, and everyone signed a petition that said 'We all hate Demi Lovato.'''
If someone as seemingly perfect as Demi Lovato can be bullied, what hope do our kids have? Momlogic asked Ross Ellis, founder and chief executive officer of Love Our Children USA, the national nonprofit leader on child violence prevention, for tips on protecting our children.
Kindness starts at home: "The reality is, any kid can become a bully or be victimized themselves, so it's crucial to take preventative measures now," says Ellis. "Bullying is a learned behavior. So when kids see you criticize others ("Can you believe what Jill was wearing?"), they mimic your actions out in the world. What's more, insecurity usually triggers a bully's behavior. So raising confident and empathetic children will have a two-fold effect: Not only will your kids have positive self-esteem, but they'll be more likely to stand up for other kids who are being harassed."
Develop a buddy system: "It's a fact that bullies rarely strike groups -- they just don't have the guts," says Ellis. "If your child is being harassed, make sure he or she walks around school with a friend, or is within earshot of a teacher." If someone does start bullying your kid, have them look the bully in the eye and say, "I don't like your teasing. Stop it right now." Then they should walk away and report the incident. If the bully pushes, teach your kid not to hit back. "Bullies want a reaction, so if the victim reciprocates, the problem will worsen," says Ross.
Take action: "As tempting as it is to sit down with the troublemaker's parents, don't," says Ellis. "Most parents are defensive toward criticism of their child or are in denial there's even a problem." A better idea: Go to the school directly, and record every incident of harassment. Then ask your school to develop an anti-bullying program and form a watchdog group with other parents. "The sad truth is most prevention lies with parents, because most schools just don't take bullying seriously enough."