The "boys will be boys" adage no longer holds up, for bullying has gone beyond the male scuffles in schools and neighborhood playgrounds. Today's teasing has taken on a new sinister meaning, where girls can sometimes be the meanest of them all, and suicide is seen as the only out for tortured children.
CNN's Anderson Cooper hosted a must-see special called "Bullying: It Stops Here," on Saturday night where the dangerous and insidious nature of today's bullying was highlighted. A forum of students, parents, school personnel and some celebrity guests tackled the topic head on with Dr. Phil McGraw.
I think this is a conversation that should take place in every school, church and community center across the U.S., for bullies and those being bullied grow up and may carry their negative, dysfunctional behavior into adulthood. We have seen many nightmares unfold on the evening news, where one gunman or another opened fire on innocent co-workers or others in an insane rampage.
What always stands out to me is what people who knew the killer would say about him. He was so "quiet' or so "mild-mannered" or "nice." I often wonder what that person was like as a child.
Bullying can be extremely devastating to children. Many have committed suicide because the despair felt bottomless, endless. Kids as young as 10 have hanged themselves in their closets at home because of incessant bullying.
A new phenomenon to school yard harassment is the "mean girls" online phenomenon. Girls are now terrorising each other even worse than boys, and the detached anonymity of the Internet has exacerbated this dangerous heckling.
Kids now launch full-on assaults against each other from behind the protection of a computer screen. With the simple click of a mouse, the cyber bully can inflict much destruction. One such case resulted in a bullied teenager killing herself. She was only 13. Unfortunately, this is not unique, and other suicides have been documented, they just don't all make the six o'clock news.
Kids are teased about their sexuality, religion, how they look, sound, walk, talk, smell. You get the picture: bullying can focus on serious issues to just about any mundane thing. The results or feelings they invoke in those being bullied are the same. Incessant taunting to physical assaults can take a toll on children physically, emotionally and psychologically, with life-long or deadly consequences.
As Anderson Cooper said, we need to put a stop to the vicious cycle. As a society, we are all responsible for how our children act. Schools, parents, guardians and neighbors all have a role to play. As the slogan for spotting terrorism goes in New York, "If you see something, say something." I would take it a step further--don't just say something, do something about it.
Talk to your children. Set an example at home. Some parents fight and scream in front of their kids. Children mimic what we do, so teaching by example is the best way to show our children how to be in the world. If our kids are the ones doing the bullying, let them know they are wrong. Do not coddle or hide what they do.
If your child is the one being bullied, get help immediately. Never tell him or her to "toughen up" or "it will pass." You do not know that. Go to the school, get them involved and do not stop until you get some solution.
Communities can also help. If you see bullying out there, don't just pass on by. Call law enforcement if you have to. Do not stand on the sidelines. Get involved -- our children's future depends on it.