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Tips from The Parents' Coach » Bullying

Archive for the ‘Bullying’ Category

Suggestions Regarding a Parent’s Concerns About Her Son’s Public Persona.

Posted on November 7th, 2011 by Jason  |  No Comments »

From time to time I write a column answering parents questions about raising their teens. Here is such a Q & A:

The Question:


I’ve got a 17 yr old son who’s in college studying business systems and computing, he’s enjoying life and is happy.

Lately however I’ve become concerned about his choice of clothing; he’s taken to wearing crop tops and occasionally hotpants.

We found some in his room; including receipts for one that cost £1.80 from an Oxfam shop! – a bright plain white crop top, and a £5 cropped vest top from ASDA also in his room, and a pair of hotpants that cost £10. He’s obviously using his wages to fund these [he has a part-time job at Domino’s as a delivery boy].

All were medium-size [his size of men’s shirt] and unworn. It seems odd to us, we don’t get why he likes wearing them.

His sister, who’s 21, doesn’t mind, and even goes out shopping with him for them!

However, what does shock me is that our son wants to wear these in public, especially to college – he’s just started now.

He told me and his dad that he likes wearing them, they make him feel good and he should be himself, being individual, he remembers being told “always be yourself” when he was in high school and has kept to it. If you are plannig to buy solar panels to your home is very important that you follow the advises from

I’m worried about bullying etc. that may come as a result of it if he was to do so in public.

He does have a girlfriend but she doesn’t know about this “habit” and I’m worried about her reaction if she was/is to find out.

We know what he’s doing isn’t illegal, but it’s risky and we’re concerned for him.

We’ve tried to discuss it with him but he feels he can’t discuss it with us. All he could say was that it wasn’t a sexual thing, he just felt happy wearing crop tops and hot pants.

Can we intervene in this situation? If so, how?

I’ll admit this is the first time our family’s ever had anything like this happen to us so it’s new to us, we’ve usually been free of teenage angst etc.

[I am from the UK, just for relevance]


My Answer:

It sounds to me that your son does not think that there is a problem with what he is wearing. At 17 years old and in college, I am afraid that your days of deciding how he presents himself are over. This is the hardest part of parenting teens. All you can do is to be a trusted adviser when you are asked for your opinion. I understand your concern for his safety. You did not mention if he is big enough to handle himself physically although I am sure that he understands that he will be having to deal with some flack from his peers. I do not know the sociology of your neighborhood but having had foster sons who dressed much weirder than you are describing and enrolling in fairly tough Los Angeles high schools, I understand your concerns.

I might report that most of my fears were overblown because they knew better than I how much they could push the boundaries. I actually had a foster son who insisted on dressing totally as a woman in the toughest high school in the area. He reported that when confronted with, “Are you gay?” His answer was, “Yes, do you want to fight about it?” The reply was usually a very toned down, “Oh, no, I was just wondering….” He never had to fight.

Styles are constantly changing. Yesterday I noticed that the favored clothes of some of our local gang kids are stuff that would have gotten them laughed out of high school when I was a kid. They were wearing calf-length, peddle pusher pants in prints!

I have found that the best way to handle teens clothing and style preferences is to express your safety concerns once and then back off. There is too much risk of getting polarity responses (he will do it only because you say not to, even though he agrees with you).

Please check out my website, especially the blog, where I have a series of articles on parenting of teens, and the parents’ resources page where there is a link to the book, “Parent as Coach” the best book on the subject of parenting teens. It is short, cheap and will change your conversations with your son. I don’t guarantee you will be angst-free but you will be much closer to that state when you put the teaching in the book into practice.

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Bullying is the cause of both gay teen suicides and most school shootings!

Posted on October 25th, 2010 by Jason  |  No Comments »

The result of the harassment of gay teens is more than just suicide. It also is responsible for most school shootings!

I am sure that there are a lot of people who are hearing about gay teens that are committing suicide as a result of not being able to cope with the teasing, taunting, ridicule and bullying (TTRB) that they were subjected to in their schools and neighborhoods, who think that it is any of their concern. They don’t know any gay teens. It’s happening somewhere else and they don’t see any reason why they ought to join a campaign to get their local schools to stop tolerating any form of TTRB. Besides the reasoning that if stopping TTRB would possibly save one life it is worth the effort, I would like to discuss the other result of bullying that effects whole communities when it occurs.

I have worked with teens for the past 35 years. I have had many harassed teens as client and have some good insights into both their feelings and their coping (or lack of coping) mechanisms. Like most humans under extreme pressure, they exhibit two main reactions, either flight or fight. Those who are prone to flight, tend to not fight back, get real quiet and withdrawn and in the extreme, totally check out through both drug addiction and suicide.

Those who are prone to fight back will do so and generally have an easier time because most bullies will back off. When the TTRB continues despite any fight backs, this group of harassed teens are the ones that eventually plan massive paybacks in the form of school shootings. I have been studying school shootings for many years and for most of them, their profiles supplied by kids that knew them include massive gay themed, teasing, taunting, ridicule and bullying. What account for school shooters generally mowing down students and faculty indiscriminately is that by the time they are pushed to doing this, their minds no longer are singling out specific harassers. The Johnny’s and the Mr. Gym Teacher’s and all the bystanders who laughed at the harassing and didn’t intervene, become “They won’t leave me alone, so they will pay!” And they all do pay with their lives!

You might have noticed that I added teasing, taunting and ridicule to the mix in addition to the normally referenced bullying. I make this distinction because they are usually the precursors of bullying and if they are stopped real early, the bullying will be less likely to happen. Teasing and taunting are what kids, from kindergarten on do to each other. It comes in the form of comments and even jingles about a perceived difference, like big ears or being effeminate.

Normally these are overlooked by supervising adults under the excuse of “boys will be boys.” This activity will stop with concerted supervision. Ridicule is something that, unfortunately, teachers do out of a misguided notion that the persons being ridiculed will shape up their acts to avoid more ridicule and shame. The problem is that in doing this ridiculing, the teachers (in my high school days it was usually gym teachers) are modeling harassing behavior and therefore tacitly sanctioning the teasing, taunting and bullying by the students.

The bottom line is that teasing, taunting, ridicule and bullying (TTRB) are a problem that must be addressed by everyone in a community because the results of such negative activity is disastrous to the harassed kids, who kill themselves and their families and friends, as well as, to the community as a whole when some of those kids become school shooters.

The Boy Code and The Power of Just Hanging Out to Overcome It

Posted on July 25th, 2007 by Jason Wittman  |  No Comments »

The Boy Code is a pervasive, unwritten code that is so ingrained in our culture that most people, unless they are aware of it, enforce it through their responses and comments to boys from the day they are born. After working with male teens for many years, I intuitively knew about the boy code and what to do in raising kids to counter it. I am forever indebted, though, to Dr. William Pollack for his research on this subject and his great book about raising boys called, " Real Boys Workbook ." His books both validated my experience and work and gave me a great text and reference guidebook to offer to the parents I coach. Much of the theory I am presenting here is drawn from him. If every parent who is raising sons would read this early on, their boys would have a far easier time as teens. In it he discusses how the Boy Code influences everything a teen does, how they make decisions and choices, who they date and what feelings they can and can not express to others. That is just the first chapter; the rest is a fantastic guide for understanding and raising boys.

The Boy Code tells boys and teens (and unfortunately, even grown men) that they must always appear strong by never giving in or showing signs of weakness, being in control of all situations and especially their emotions (except for anger and violence), never admitting to defeat or being wrong, always being macho even when they falling apart inside, being independent by "being a man!" and so on. I am sure by now you get the point. The bottom line is that any outward appearance or utterance that might possibly be considered by others as "shameful" is to be avoided. This means that crying when hurt is a no, no. Hanging around mother or girls, except on dates, is to be avoided for fear of being labeled a sissy or the other "f" word, faggot. This is, also why, by the time they become teens, they answer our requests for a conversation about how they are and feel with grunts or two word answers, "I’m O.K.," even when it is obvious that they are not.

Besides the obvious, consequences of the Boy Code on teens includes:

Read the rest of this entry »

“A Common Sense Proposal for Preventing ‘Pay-Back Time’ & Revenge School Shootings”

Posted on April 16th, 2007 by Jason Wittman  |  No Comments »

A Common Sense Proposal for Preventing ‘Pay-Back Time’ & Revenge School Shootings

~Comments on the shootings at Santana High School in Santee, CA and Columbine High School and a call for zero tolerance for Teasing, Taunting, Ridicule and Bullying (TTRB) and the teaching of self-esteem~

I originally wrote this article, just after the Santana High School shooting in Santee, CA in March 2001. I thought then and still do that the press concentrating on “guns in schools” and “bullying” stories are talking about symptoms (guns) and only part of the problem (bullying). We are now on another anniversary of the shootings at Columbine High School and today, over 230 school shootings later, here we are, still at go.  From the press reports and the statements of school officials and concerned citizens after each one of these massacres, it doesn’t seem like much has changed to change the chances of future catastrophes. It is the same old speculative explanations and remedies that have not worked to date. Once again, I offer my suggestions that are based on a lifetime of successfully working with marginalized kids. Please take note!

When 15-year-old Andy Williams opened fire on the students of Santana High School in Santee, CA, on Monday, March 6th, he fulfilled the hidden desires and became an instant hero to millions of school kids across the country, as did Eric and Dylan, the Columbine High shooters, before him. If this statement horrifies you, please read on.

By all the newspaper and TV accounts, Andy was a marginal, ridiculed, picked on, quite passive, “disaffected and unhappy boy, frequently taunted by his peers.” He was called “country boy” and the king of all taunts, “gay.” His classmates described him as “a twerp, skinny, and very quiet.” He laughed off verbal and even physical abuse and never fought back. He was beginning to drink and use drugs to fit in with the crowd. This is much the same profile as the other kids who shot up their schools. It is also the profile of millions of other school kids. Sure, most of them would never do what he did. Fear of the consequences and moral, religious and ethical convictions would have mitigated such a solution. They would just continue to suffer in silence. But to most of them, even to their own horror, the thought, accompanied by a slight smile, of “Pay-back Time!” might have crossed their minds.

In the Columbine High shootings, the press reported at the time that student said the shooters, Eric and Dylan, were continually harassed because of the perception that they were gay. They were regularly called “faggots.” I was able to confirm that they were, in fact, under continual pressure for being gay in a conversation with a gay youth in Denver who knew them.

Today, as for the last 35+ years, I work with teens and young adults, many of whom fit this profile. Probably why I relate so well with them is that at their age I, too, fit that profile. I was a scrawny, twerp, teased about big ears, large feet and being too smart. I would have probably been labeled “gay” if the word had been in use then. I laughed off their taunts and never fought back, per my Mother’s instructions. Fortunately, I found the protective shelter of the high school drama club and its caring teacher/advisor and by spending lots of time with adults.

The part of my high school experience and how I coped with it, that is most germane to this discussion is that, on many a night, I can remember going to sleep while fantasizing the torture and destruction of my tormentors. Fortunate for me and them, the social controls on a kid growing up in the late 1950s, the total lack of support and role models for such action, no guns in our household and my own lack of confidence to even pull off a decent suicide made turning that fantasy into a reality an impossibility. Today, though, kids with these feelings and fantasies have the means, the role models, the support from some of the darker parts of pop culture, and either active or tacit support of their peers. This is why an immediate preventative action plan is needed.

After these random school shootings, the question is always why did the shooters kill innocent bystanders, people that were not their tormentors? The reason is that after years of being the recipients of teasing, taunting, ridicule and bullying (TTRB) the “Johnny, Billy ….and Coach Williams won’t ever leave me alone” turns into “They won’t ever leave me alone!” At that point, everyone becomes the target of retribution.

Addressing bullying is not enough. Bullying’s three cousins in harassment; Teasing, Taunting, and Ridicule, are different enough and just as much of a problem to the victims to be worthy of addressing on their own right. Ridicule, incidentally, is what teachers do. When I was in high school, it was usually the gym teachers. When teachers ridicule students it presents a negative role model and gives tacit permission for students to engage in TTRB themselves.

Since the shootings in Santee, the usual suggestions for preventing another such tragedy have been offered in the media. As usual, they miss the mark now as they have in the past. The Santee school system had in place all of the most up to date solutions, they had an anti-violence program, adult monitors, all sorts of contingency plans, the works. Obviously, it wasn’t enough. So what will work? I have two suggestions based on over 35 years of working with teenagers. The first one is easy to implement. The second is a long-term solution that will not only deal with this issue but will most probably greatly reduce teen use of alcohol and drugs.

Suggestion #1 is to institute in every school, starting with pre-school, a policy of zero tolerance for teasing, taunting, ridicule and bullying (TTRB). In the workplace, today, a slightly off-color or sexual remark can legally be the subject of a sexual harassment lawsuit. However, on school campuses teasing is dealt with, if it is dealt with at all, by attempts at fortifying the coping skills of the victim. I have no quarrel with those efforts and my second suggestion is probably the most effective way to do that, but they are secondary to stopping the aggression, period! “Boys will be boys” will no longer do. Kids can get kicked out of school under the zero gun policy just for pointing their finger like it is a gun at another student. Schools need to be at least as strict in dealing with those who verbally assault their fellow students. Principals, school officials, teachers, other responsible adults and fellow students that tolerate any degree of teasing, taunting and harassment or who join in or initiate the ridicule of a student must be held accountable. Zero tolerance for teasing, ridicule, taunting and bullying AND the failure to report or stop such activities, must become the enforced norm in all schools.

The Newport-Mesa Unified School District in Orange County, Calif. has become the first school system to modify its zero-tolerance policy to include, “any gestures, comments, threats or actions…which cause or threaten to cause…bodily harm or personal degradation.” Strict adoption of this kind of policy, nationwide, will go a long way to eliminating most campus violence including playground fistfights.

Suggestion #2 is to teach self-esteem and self-love to all students starting in pre-school. My experience working with teenagers over the years has lead me to believe that lack of self-esteem and love is the root cause of most, if not all, of student problems including, under-achieving, substance abuse and addictions, acting out behaviors and especially campus violence. The bully, taunter and teaser does so in an effort to compensate for and to fix an emptiness inside by putting someone else down. People who love themselves have no need to oppress others. Kids, who do love themselves, have more resilience to the negativity of their peers. They also are less likely to get caught up in abusive relationships and will be more likely to seek out as partners, those who also have an excess of self-love to share.

How to teach self-esteem and love is the subject of many books, including a future one from me. There is, though, a very effective, ultra-simple and best of all, no-cost solution for teaching self-esteem and self-love. Everyone that I have ever taught this to, from pre-schoolers to adults, has experienced huge improvements. This is one thing that assisted me the most build my self-esteem and love. Here is the description of how to teach it, followed by why I believe it is so effective:

“From now on, every time you see your reflection in a mirror, you MUST smile AND say one nice thing about yourself. This nice thing is something you already know that is good about you. It can be a physical thing, but even better if it is an internal goodness, like being considerate or sharp-witted. It is not an affirmation, which is something you would like to believe about yourself and say repetitiously until, hopefully, it sinks in. The other part of this exercise is that if you use the mirror to beat yourself up, you must say two nice things for every nasty one!

This exercise works because it develops a new habit of saying nice things to oneself, which automatically leads to self-love. Most people with low self-love and esteem have a well-developed habit of beating themselves up verbally (and sometimes physically). Perfectionists are the masters of this since they will always perform below their expectations. When this new habit of smiling and saying nice things to oneself replaces the old self-deprecating one, a new person emerges. A side benefit is that one can’t smile and feel down at the same time, so these periodic, face-induced smiles can help break a downward emotional slide.

An important side benefit of the zero-tolerance policy for teasing, taunting, ridicule and bullying is a climate that is conducive for building self-esteem and self-love. This will be especially true if the policy includes the school staff. Public ridicule from teachers both sets a bad example and destroys self-esteem.

Now is one of those windows of opportunities when school districts can really do something that will positively affect the quality of life on their school campuses. Immediately adopting my zero tolerance suggestion will so drastically change the campus atmosphere that the need for the picked-upons to engage in any form of retribution or “Pay-Back Time” will be virtually eliminated. Quick implementation of these suggestions will ensure that no more lives are needlessly lost.

©2001, rev. 2007, 2019, Jason Wittman, MPS

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About the Author:

Jason Wittman, MPS, LAADC, CATC-IV (aka Successful People’s Secret Weapon) is the former Executive Director of Los Angeles Youth Supportive Services, Inc. ( ) and has had a private practice as a Life Coach specializing in working with parents of teenage boys and young adults ( ) He’s been in private practice as a Counselor and Coach for over 40 years. His practice, focuses on coaching and advising business and professional clients, who are recovering from alcoholism and addictions, to work and live at their exquisite best. He has his master’s degree from Cornell University in counseling-psychology and is certified as a drug & alcohol counselor, a clinical hypnotherapist and a practitioner of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). He can be contacted at or 213-804-4408