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Another Senseless Bullycide

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How can we prevent something like this from happening again?

Jaheem Herrera

Last week, we told you about the tragic bullycide of Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover. The 11-year-old was taunted mercilessly by bullies, and his mom did everything she could to stop it. But he committed suicide when the teasing became too much to bear.

Now another 11-year-old named Jaheem Herrera has committed suicide after being bullied. He too was called "gay" by his classmates, and this week the fifth grader hanged himself in his home.

"Bullycide" is all too common. A study by Yale University finds that bully victims are two to nine times more likely to report having suicidal thoughts than other kids. Suicide is the third leading cause of death for young people in the United States.

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 from bullies.

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 twofold 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 Ellis.

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."

This appears to be the case in this tragic situation, sadly.

How do we teach our kids tolerance of gay or transgendered classmates? We called Cornell University psychologist Ritch C. Savin-Williams, author of The New Gay Teenager, for tips on teaching our own kids tolerance for gay or transgendered kids. "Parents must do everything they can to create a wide spectrum of gender expression," he says.

Here are his top five tips:

  1. Start early. Even toddlers can learn that gender expression is okay.
  2. Encourage emotion. Allow your child to cry and express his or her feelings.
  3. Watch your language. Ban expressions like "boys don't cry" or "girls aren't pushy" from your vocabulary.
  4. Offer kids a variety of toys. For instance, don't say things like, "You want the truck, right?" to your toddler son. Let him decide -- even if he chooses a doll or princess toy.
  5. Allow kids to be open and positive about peoples' differences. Even if you aren't tolerant of gay or transgendered people, your children live in a world that's very different than it was even 20 years ago. "Teach your child about the world that will come," Savin-Williams concludes, "not the one you were raised in."

Our hearts go out to Jaheem Herrera's family in this tragic time. May his death not be in vain.

next: New Bill Gives Kids No Credit
5 comments so far | Post a comment now
Heiddi April 25, 2009, 9:09 AM

I’m so surprised that schools haven’t all adopted a No-Bully Program like my son’s school did. For the last two years they have had zero tolerance for bullying and created a special program to address that in the school. My son participates in activities with the entire school around being friends and not teasing or bullying anyone. More schools should adopt this program to prevent any further tragedies like this one.

Karen April 25, 2009, 9:29 AM

While I agree that schools need to adopt anti bullying programs, the program isn’t going to work if it isn’t enforced. My daughters school has a anti bullying program, but I have noticed that it isn’t always enforced. My daughter is in kindergarten, and the bullying in her class is very much there. From name calling to making fun of what another student is wearing, it starts young.

amy April 25, 2009, 12:33 PM

God, this is so sad. I have a little boy this age and it breaks my heart. I agree with Karen it’s not always in force…

Jane April 25, 2009, 11:22 PM

Write a complaint about the abuse. Give it to the teachers and the parents of the abuser(s). If they continue file another complain and another and keep a file with the words File for Future lawsuit against…name of school and abuser and parents. You are your children’s best defense. Why should a group of children have a great education and school life at the expense of another. Student abuse is harmful to the child’s mind,health,body and future. It molds their life and lives with them forever.

Leeza April 26, 2009, 9:24 AM

The foundation for teaching our children to be caring and compassionate, starts at home.Bully’s aren’t born bullies, it’s a learned behavior.Many bullies come from homes where no one is paying close enough attention to the child.Every child needs to be nurtured,encouraged and rewarded for positive behavior and disciplined for unacceptable behavior, in a way that makes them deeply aware of what behavior is always expected of them.As parents,our job is to be role models for our children.They learn more from observing our behavior toward others,than what we talk to them about.Parents of repeat bullies should be required to take parenting classes!That would be the best way to teach the parents what their role as parent needs to be. The bully would benefit,and stop bullying, once the parent(s)forms a healthy new bond with their child.

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