Opinion: Bullying Stops With Parents

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Tyler Clementi, 18, a first year student at Rutgers University in New Jersey, killed himself shortly after being spied on and having footage of himself streamed online. Credit: AFP/Getty Images

Last week we mourned over several teenage suicides: Kids ages 13 to 18 from New Jersey, Texas, California, Indiana and Minnesota who were bullied because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. These tragedies occurred in red and blue states, major cities and rural communities, and probably much closer to home than any of us want to consider.

And these were only the ones we read about.

Here are some horrifying statistics. Suicide is the third-leading cause of death for young people ages 15 to 24, and fourth for children ages 10 to 14. A 2008 survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that one-third of high-school students had seriously considered suicide, created a plan or actually tried to take their own life in the 12 months preceding the survey. Furthermore, boys have a higher rate of suicides, yet girls are also more prone to report their own attempts. And gay kids, according to other surveys, are at least twice as likely to make suicide attempts.

These are our sons and daughters -- tweens and teens grappling with who they are in the romantic world, so many of whom are bullied at school for being different, so many of whom remain silent about their struggles and pain.

This needs to stop. Both the bullying and the silent shame. Every one of us has the capacity to be the catalyst to end this misery. Take personal responsibility by reaching out to the children around you and making sure they are all safe, no matter who they are.

Start with your own dinner table and ask your child, "Who's being bullied at school?" Statistics dictate that teenage suicide will touch us all at some point, but those numbers don't have to stay that way.Talk to your kids and figure out where the bullying is going on, then use the resources below to empower yourself to make a difference.

Teach your child to believe in himself as well as standing up for those around him. And if your child is the bully, end that behavior immediately. Parents, check your own bullying tendencies as well. Answer this question honestly: What am I doing that's contributing to this situation? Chances are, there's something you can change in your own behavior and attitudes that will have a major impact on your kids and the world around them.

Don't wait until another child suicide story hits the front page before making this a priority in your family ... because that could be one day too late.

GLSEN: The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network offers a comprehensive list of anti-bullying resources.

PFLAG: Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays is a family-based organization committed to the civil rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. They offer parents 10 ways to make our schools safer and ways to report bullying in schools.

The Trevor Project: The Trevor Project focuses on crisis intervention and suicide prevention efforts among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth. The confidential hotline is 866-488-7386. Check out their section on suicidal signs and facts and advice on how to help someone who is suicidal.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
: 800-273-TALK (8255)

Eddie Mercado is senior manager at AOL and works closely with the ParentDish team.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.