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A 10-year-old boy in a Cincinnati suburb recently was criminally charged for threatening classmates at school with a BB gun. What was surprising: The child told police he was trying to protect himself from bullies who tormented him for wearing ankle braces, according to the Associated Press. In a similar incident, gay teen Darnell Young may be expelled from school for firing a stun gun in the air after facing daily harassment at his Indianapolis school, according to msnbc.com.
"Bullies are often making pre-emptive strikes to avoid being bullied themselves, says Jessie Klein, assistant professor of sociology and criminal justice at Adelphi University in Long Island, N.Y. and author of the new book The Bully Society: School Shootings and Crisis of Bullying in America's Schools. "They believe the only way to avoid becoming a target is to become the bully first."
How can parents avoid and stop this bully-victim cycle? Klein offers these suggestions:
Forget the notion that boys don't cry. Parents and educators should not admonish boys for expressing their feelings. "So much conditioning boys get is to use violence and never show they are sad, vulnerable or weak," says Klein. "They need to be taught that's it's okay for them to be able to show their full range of emotions."
Help your kid make friends. Social isolation has tripled since the 1980s, says Klein, and isolation can lead to bullying and school violence, not to mention increased rates of anxiety, depression, drug use and suicide. "Encourage your child to have friends and for young children to have play dates," says Klein. "Parents should help kids negotiate conflicts and not give up on friendships. Strong friendships can really overcome a lot."
Role model good behavior. "Respond to people with compassion and don't talk badly about people who are different," says Klein. Also, try not to be super-competitive or compare your child to others. Instead, help your kids develop friendships based on support and caring, not 'winning' or social status.
Encourage schools to do more than punish. "Kids who act out feel socially excluded, and if they're kicked out they often take violence into the streets." Klein recommends that schools (and parents) try to change the school culture with collaborative projects and small group discussions to help more kids feel included.
Stay positive. Worried about bullying in your child's classroom? Set up an appointment with the teacher. Not getting the response you want from the teacher? Meet with administrators. Still not satisfied? Reach out to other parents who share your concerns. Klein just warns that parents should try to work with the schools in a positive way (in other words, don’t threaten to sue the school) to come up with lasting solutions to curb bullying and help to make your child’s school as safe and welcoming as it can be.
For more ways to combat bullying, click here.