Here's the thing about directing our attention so fully and passionately toward bullying: The people most affected by it are sick of talking about it.
"Kids are at the eye-rolling stage with bullying," says Cynthia Lowen, producer and writer of the 2011 documentary "Bully." "They're so inundated with messages from the media and school and this huge explosion of awareness over the last few years that it's like, 'Ugh, bullying.'"
This is particularly common during the teen years.
"Teenagers think bullying is something that happens in elementary school," Lowen says. "They think of it as something they've outgrown."
But the numbers indicate the problem continues to plague kids. Thirteen million children are bullied each year in the U.S., and 3 million stay home from school because they feel unsafe, the U.S. Department of Education reports. Kids ages 10 to 17 are more than twice as likely to have suicidal thoughts if they've been bullied in the past year, says a recent study in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.
The increasing prevalence of social media and technology in teens' lives means bullying is a round-the-clock scourge. No longer do schoolmates' taunts and threats end when a child enters the confines of home. Twenty-four percent of adolescents ages 10 to 18 have experienced a form of cyberbullying, according to the Cyberbullying Research Center (cyberbullying.us), a Web-based clearinghouse for research and resources on cyberbullying.
The solution, of course, is not to stop the conversations. But it may be time to change them.
Experts in the fields of education, psychology and parenting offer five ways to adjust our approach to bullying.
Stop calling it "bullying." Renowned parenting educator Rosalind Wiseman, author of "Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends and Other Realities of Adolescence" (Three Rivers Press), knows the fatigue surrounding the word. "They're so sick of talking about bullying," she says. "My son is like, 'Mom, I got it. We had an assembly last week. I got it.'"
Many adolescents, Lowen notes in "The Essential Guide to Bullying: Prevention and Intervention" (Alpha), which she co-wrote with psychotherapist Cindy Miller, dismiss bullying and harmful teasing as "drama."
"If you go to a school and ask, 'How many of you have been bullied?' nobody will raise their hand," Lowen says. "When you start breaking it down by behaviors: Raise your hand if someone has spread rumors about you. Raise your hand if you've watched someone being ostracized in the last week. Raise your hand if someone has called you a (derogatory name) this week. Many hands will shoot up."
Get creative to get kids talking. "Hey, how are things going on the team, morale-wise?" Lowen suggests. "Do kids sit in cliques during lunch at your school?"
"You want to pose more neutral questions that start a conversation," she says, "rather than asking specifically about the big label of bullying."
Don't assume they'll tell you they're being bullied. "If you ask your teenager if things are going OK at school, there's a good chance he or she will tell you things are fine," says Carrie Goldman, author of "Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear" (HarperOne). "It's easy to miss things until they blow up in your face."
Teens, already loathe to exchange a lot of extra words with parents, also want to save face.
"For most older kids it's very humiliating to tell their parents," says clinical psychologist Peter Sheras, author of "Your Child: Bully or Victim? Understanding and Ending School Yard Tyranny" (Fireside). "They feel like they're a dork or a disappointment or even a burden — 'Now my dad is going to have to take time off work and come to school to deal with this. My mom is so busy. She doesn't have time for this.' So they just don't say anything."
Many will choose to live alone with the pain or try to alleviate it in harmful ways.
"The teenagers I spoke to told me some of their tricks to mask the pain: Every night they skim a half-ounce off the bottles in the liquor cabinet. They hit their parents' Xanax. They're cutting, and wearing long sleeves to hide it," says Goldman. "If you suspect a problem and your child says, 'No, everything's fine,' it's important to follow your gut and make sure. The kids I spoke to all reached a place of extreme crisis before they spoke up."
If they do tell you, give it the weight it deserves. "A terrible response is, 'Oh, he was just kidding,' or 'Oh, kids are kids,'" says Goldman. "When your kid comes to you with concerns, don't dismiss them. It's only teaching them to be dismissive of other people's feelings."
It also gives the impression they're on their own to deal with the angst.