And then there's the other end of the spectrum: You may discover that you're harboring a bully in your home. This is something no parent wants to face, yet it's a real possibility. If you receive a call from school telling you that your child has been suspended for harassing a classmate, don't jump to the conclusion that this can't be true. Confront her, but be prepared for her to flap around like a fish on deck and blame everyone else. Regardless of her side of the story, don't minimize the seriousness of the accusation. Listen to the details. Then closely examine what goes on in your own home. Bullying isn't a congenital defect; it's learned behavior.
Only parents and other adults in charge of programs that serve kids and teens can prevent and correct bullying. Adults are responsible for teaching that clothing choices, physical features, manner of speech or sexual activity is no excuse to pick on others. And we must make a commitment to creating environments with a zero-tolerance policy for acts of bullying, harassment or sexual violence. In order to accomplish this, we first need to educate ourselves about the prevalence and severity of the problem and then keep a watchful eye on our kids.
If you come to find that your child is bullying someone, let her know, in no uncertain terms, that this is unacceptable and find ways to make her accountable for her behavior. And if your kid tells you that other kids are picking on her at school and making her day a living hell, give her the benefit of the doubt and listen attentively. Take what she says seriously and make sure she knows you care. We all need to work together to end the behaviors that led Phoebe Prince and others like her to make a tragic and irrevocable choice.
Evelyn Resh is director of sexuality and relationships programming for Miraval Resorts in Tucson. She is a certified sexuality counselor and nurse-midwife and continues her practice in both fields in Tucson and western Massachusetts. She has taken care of teens and women of all ages in the OB-GYN and primary care settings for more than 20 years and specializes in working with women 25 and under. She is also the mother of a 19-year-old daughter. Resh speaks all over the nation on topics related to women's health and sexual satisfaction and is the author of the new book The Secret Lives of Teen Girls: What Your Mother Wouldn't Talk About but Your Daughter Needs to Know published by Hay House Publishers.
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