Parents

Would your child stand up to bullies? Dateline investigates

March 4, 2011 at 12:23 PM ET

My kid would never bully… sound familiar?

No parent wants to think their child is the Mean Girl or the Big Bad Bully. But with half of all schoolchildren reporting they’ve been bullied in the past year, someone’s got to be doing it.

So how do you know if the anti-bullying messages you send at home really sink in? Dateline has a special report Sunday that uses hidden cameras to see how teens really act. TODAY got a preview and spoke to some of the parents and kids involved. Here’s the setup: Girls were invited to what they thought was a TV fashion program – but three of their fellow participants were actually actors. Two pretty, slightly older girls played the role of bullies and one heavyset girl played victim.

The moms – who knew the actual premise from the beginning – watched backstage while their girls were filmed reacting as the bullies mocked the victim’s clothes, made snide remarks and bossed her around. (Sample comment: “If you knew anything about fashion, you would know horizontal stripes are a no. A big no.”)

Many of the girls snickered along with the bullies. One later told Dateline that it was a wake-up call: “I'm going to think about what happened in here and bring that into my real life to make sure that I don't act the way I acted today.”

Rosalind Wiseman, author of “Queen Bees & Wannabes," says teaching kids good values isn’t enough; parents have to teach them how to act on those values in everyday situations. As parents on Dateline watched their children go along with the bullies, she said, “I think it's also acknowledging the power of older girls and of charismatic girls.”

One girl, 14-year-old Lilly Baldassare, did stand up to the bullies. As they tried to cut the “victim” out of the group, Lilly interjected, “She does need to have input…  She said teamwork.”

A few minutes later she busts out with a heartfelt “What the f---!” as the bullies continue sniping – watching backstage, her mother, Amy Baldassare, covers her face and laughs, saying “Nice language!”

On TODAY, Lilly said she’s been bullied herself. “You feel worthless,” she said. “I wanted to let her know that I knew the bully wasn’t doing the right thing.”

Watching the tape, she said, “I might have overreacted a little bit.”

“But your heart was in the right place,” TODAY’s Meredith Vieira said.

Dateline’s Sunday program includes hidden camera investigations of boys bullying, as well. It airs at 7 p.m., 6 p.m. Central time.

Dateline has a great set of tips online for parents and for kids. Among the advice for parents:

If your child tell you they’re being bullied, don’t say: “Ignore it,” “Walk away,” “Don’t let them see that it bothers you.”

Do say: “I’m really sorry that this happened, thank you for trusting me to tell me something so important, and together we are going to figure out a strategy to give you some control in this situation.”

What if your child says, “I’m only going to tell you if you promise not to tell anyone else?”

You say: “I’d love to make that promise, but I can’t because we may have to seek someone’s advice who knows more about what to do than we do. But I can promise that we will decide together who that person will be.”

For the full list of advice for both parents and children, click here.

How do you think your child would react in a bullying situation? How do you talk to your kids about standing up to bullies?

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