Don’t Rely on Anti-Bullying Laws to Parent: Talk to Your Kids

I don’t think I really admitted to myself that I was bullied until my own children entered grade school. All these years I’ve been telling myself it was just a normal part of growing up. That being picked on made me stronger. Even that it was good for me: that my “outsider” status contributed to my studying hard, getting good grades, and eventually making it into law school.

But once my own boys got close to school age, I had to rethink this attitude. I was forced to stop lumping a whole set of experiences under “character-building” or “normal growing pains” and start looking at what actually happened.

I remember one time, I must have been about 10 or 11 years old. I was at my friend Eric’s house. There was a kid – a bully – whose name I have blotted from my memory. Bully had me and Eric so scared that we were literally afraid to leave the house. We spent our entire “playdate” strategizing about what to do if he came to the house. I thought we should call 911. Eric thought that we should be ready with knives from his parents’ drawers.

Bully had been specific. He said that he would get his friends together – they were a rough bunch, Bully’s friends – and they would surround us and break our arms and our legs and poke out our eyeballs and make us eat them.

In addition to discussing self-defense that day, Eric and I also debated whether he would really make us eat our own eyeballs, or if he was exaggerating. Eric thought he would really do it. I thought he was exaggerating, and that really he would probably stop after breaking our arms and legs. And maybe kicking us in the face until our faces bled.

Imagine being 11 and actually believing this. Now imagine spending your life thinking this was normal childhood activity. Or maybe you don’t have to imagine. Maybe you just have to remember.

I didn’t want to remember, but as my children reached school age, I had to think seriously about the possibility that they would be bullied, or that they would bully other kids.

Then came the death of Phoebe Prince. Maybe you remember this poor 16 year old girl who hanged herself after suffering intense bullying at her school just west of Granby, MA. The state of Massachusetts created new anti-bullying laws four months after her death. Oregon, ahead of the curve, has had anti-bullying laws on the books since 2001, and the laws were strengthened, coincidentally, about 6 months before Phoebe Prince’s death.

Oregon’s anti-bullying laws are ORS 339.351 to 339.364. The laws require every school district in Oregon to adopt policies prohibiting harassment, intimidation, bullying, and cyberbullying. The districts are encouraged to consult parents in developing these policies.

As a lawyer, maybe I’m supposed to be happy about these laws. I suppose I am. But the truth is, I think they’ll do about 1% of the work. Kids can’t be left to deal with this on their own. The other 99% is going to have to come from parents and teachers. Mostly parents. I’m trying to talk to my boys about it. It’s really hard. I don’t have any reason to believe they’re being honest with me. My parents were open, honest, and loving. I still lied to them about bullying because I was ashamed and I was quite certain there was nothing they could do that would help.

But still, I’m talking to my boys. I’m doing the best I can. I hope you’ll join me. If you are moved to share your own story, we welcome your voice. Send it to me directly by email to and I’ll post it with my story on our Portland child injury website.

Let’s not wait until another child dies, and let’s not sit idly by while so many are unnecessarily scarred.