Here's how to protect your kids from bullying.
Most tween girls look up to "Hannah Montana" star Miley Cyrus and imagine her life must be perfect. In her new memoir, however, Cyrus describes her tortured pre-teen years in Tennessee and reveals that she was bullied by fellow classmates.
"The girls took it beyond normal bullying. These were big, tough girls," she explains in her newly-released autobiography Miley Cyrus: Miles To Go. "I was scrawny and short. They were fully capable of doing me bodily harm."
Miley, 16, describes those early years as "friendless, lonely and miserable."
"Classmates would say, 'Your dad's a one-hit wonder. You'll never amount to anything -- just like him.'"
The "Hannah Montana" star, who refers to her bullies as the "Anti-Miley Club," recalls one incident when she was challenged to a fight in the school lunchroom.
"Three girls strutted up and stood towering over me ... They started cussing me and telling me to get up. I sat there, frozen. I didn't know what to do. Finally, I couldn't take it anymore. I wasn't chicken. What could they do to me? I was surrounded by people. I stood up, still a foot shorter than they were, and said, 'What's your problem? What did I ever do to you?'"
She adds, "They shoved me in [a locker]. I was trapped. I banged on the door until my fists hurt. Nobody came. I spent what felt like an hour in there, waiting for someone to rescue me, wondering how my life had gotten so messed up."
If someone like superstar Miley Cyrus 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."