With headline-grabbing tragedies like the death of Phoebe Prince, bullying seems worse than ever—it's no wonder parents feel powerless. While 44 states have bullying statutes, the policies vary wildly in terms of definition, reporting requirements and enforcement, which means you can't rely on schools to police behaviors or be a safe haven, particularly when it comes to cyberbullying and off-school-grounds incidents. That's why parents must lay the groundwork at home by teaching kids to recognize and report bullying, and learn what they can do themselves to take control of the problem before it escalates.
Don't wait until something is wrong to initiate a conversation about bullying, says Allan L. Beane, PhD, CEO of Bully Free Systems in Murray, Kentucky. Keep yourself in the loop by frequently asking questions like "How do kids treat each other at school?" or "What do students do when they see another kid being mean?" "What do you do?" Then casually dig a little deeper. "Is somebody bothering you online?" or "Have you ever read a mean comment on Facebook or received a text that upset you?"
If you sense a problem, tread lightly so your kid doesn't feel embarrassed or like she's being interrogated. Start the conversation when you're running errands, doing chores or in the car. Make it clear that she never has to deal with bullying alone and that telling an adult is not snitching, but rather doing what's right—whether she or someone else is the victim. Encouraging kids to speak up when they see other kids being bullied is one of the most effective ways to stop bullying in its tracks, says Beane.