While bullying has been around since the beginning of time (hello, Jesus), conversations about bullying didn't exist even a generation ago the way it does today. Sure, there was the kid in "A Christmas Story," Scut Farkus, who had green teeth and kept a sidekick with him at all times, ready and eager to throw punches for no particular reason. There were also the girls of "Heathers," who might just be the meanest girls to burst onto the scene since Lizzie Borden or Cleopatra.
Modern-day bullies are way more nuanced and savvy. They might not walk around with their fists poised to strike, but as most everyone learns the hard way, words can hurt way more anyway. And with a laptop, smartphone or tablet being clutched by pretty much everyone, everywhere, it's hard to know who's safe and where.
Little kids finding their way in the world—at home, school and on the playground—can easily fall prey to a bully or become bullies themselves. Psychological and physical violence is seemingly more prevalent than ever, and if we're learning anything from the onslaught of mass shootings, suicides by young people and stories of cyber-bulling, it's that no one is immune to being bullied or bullying.
According to Kids Health, there are five key things parents can do to ensure their kids stay safe from bullies:
Teach kids how to recognize it, share stories of when you've been picked on, praise them for being brave enough to share their stories, express unconditional love and support, and talk to their school about options to remedy the situation.
More needs to be done, certainly, but the first steps don't have to happen only when kids start attending school.
2. Remove the bait
If they're being targeted for money or gadgets, try to eliminate as much of it as possible.
3. Buddy up for safety
Encourage going to the bathroom with a friend, sitting with a trusted acquaintance on the bus, and not going into the lunchroom or anywhere else a bully might be waiting.
4. Keep calm and carry on
Try to encourage kids to tell the bully to stop saying mean things, or simply ignore them and walk away. Sometimes the best defense is indifference (or at least acting that way).
5. Don't try to fight the battle yourself
Talk to the bully's parents if you must, but try to do it in the presence of school administrators.
But lessons on staying safe also must include how to stop your child from being the bully. The best way to cure a bully is to prevent it. Little kids especially aren't always aware of how what they say and do affects others. Fortunately there are plenty of great books on the topic that speak in a tone and at a level that even the youngest can understand. Fatherly.com recently released a list of children's books that are great for reading and helping wee ones understand empathy, compassion and self-confidence, and how their behavior can affect others in all kinds of ways. The list includes "Enemy Pie," "The Hundred Dresses," "Bully," "Spaghetti in a Hot Dog Bun," and "Tease Monster."
The good news is that the abundance of awareness is actually making a dent in making kids safer and happier. While still high, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported nearly 20 percent of high school students said they'd been victims of bullying in the past year (with 15 percent revealing they'd been bullied online)—a number that is nearly 8 percent lower than a decade earlier.
According to CNN, part of the reason for the decline in bullying is thanks to anti-bulling laws. Passage of these laws, which now exist in some form in every state, became a widespread priority after the 1999 school shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado. Through education, prevention training, spelling out prohibited behavior and ensuring enforcement, the laws help protect people who are "typically seen as more at risk," including overweight people, those with disabilities and LGBTQ people.
More needs to be done, certainly, but the first steps don't have to happen only when kids start attending school. Prevention can start at home with regular conversations and some light daily reading.