The best tool parents can use in getting to the root of many bully problems is readily available, costs very little, requires no complicated assembly and no oversight from elected officials, school administrators or law enforcement personnel.
The tool is a mirror.
We know that's a ruthless suggestion for people who think personal responsibility is a burden best borne by somebody else. It's far easier when we parents simply continue to do an outstanding job of modeling behavior for our kids that encourages adoption of roles as bully, victim or bystander.
Think about your household and the messages the adults in it consistently send. How are disagreements or even the expression of disparate opinions addressed? How prevalent is respect and reason even when emotions run hot? How do parents deal with challenges when they feel like they're being bullied or need to exert their influence over others?
In all these cases, be assured your children are paying attention. There's also a very good chance they're emulating you - for better and for worse.
Because many of us have abdicated so much parental responsibility to electronic baby sitters, those means of communication carry far greater weight in our children's lives than is reasonable or healthy. Nasty text messages aren't just abbreviated jargon popping up on your child's smartphone; they're devastating personal assaults. Stupid, hurtful remarks posted via social media aren't ignored or laughed off like they should be; they too often go straight to the heart and cause real pain.
It would be convenient to blame society for bullying in its various manifestations, but society is our creation, and as individuals we need to own it before we can change it. What do we expect when we place a premium on those who shout loudest, not those who speak wisest? When we make incivility the order of the day, not the exception it once was? When we nurture a communication monster that consumes respect and kindness and expels all caps and exclamation marks?
The best way to change society is from within, from our own living rooms and dining rooms when we can communicate clearly and honestly with our kids about what's happening in their lives and how they can deal with their challenges. We'll see real change when we consistently behave as we want our children to behave, but that takes more than a mirror. Just like facing bullies, it takes courage, too.