Whether it's ugly comments in an online chat room or a shoving match on the playground, bullying has reached epidemic levels, making life miserable and even dangerous for some kids. A horrifying example from recent headlines: Fifteen-year-old Phoebe Price of Massachusetts took her life after relentless cyberbullying from classmates—six of them now face criminal charges. Massachusetts just passed an anti-bullying law that, among other things, requires principals to report bullying incidents to parents and police. Other states are cracking down, too, and there's talk about a federal law.
I know, I know. At some point most kids are tormented about something—their weight, their hair, their "dorky" jeans or nerdy glasses. I was one of those: a vulnerable 10-year-old in glasses who desperately wanted contact lenses. I remember the ridicule. It stung. And "four-eyes" taunts still go on. Cliques haven't gone away either: The "in" crowd regularly shows its cruel side by excluding kids who yearn to be accepted. So it's no surprise that three-quarters of kids say they've been teased or bullied, verbally or physically.
But if your 7-year-old is suddenly afraid to go to the playground or your middle kid is having unexplained headaches, diarrhea, upset stomachs, or is just acting odd—or your teenager starts doing anything to avoid going to school (dreading school is a big tip-off)—it's time to do what smart parents do: probe.
If you get an "Everything's fine," keep at it. Kids often hide bullying. They're ashamed of being picked on. Or they're afraid if they "tell," things will get even worse. Or both.