CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Bullying survivor and author Jodee Blanco returned to Charleston on Tuesday to help hundreds of educators, mental-health professionals and parents better understand how to help bullied children and teenagers -- and their tormentors.
Organizers held the conference in the Charleston Civic Center Little Theater and hosted more than 650 people. The West Virginia Council for the Prevention of Suicide and ASPEN co-sponsored the conference.
Blanco, who also attended a smaller Charleston workshop in October, explained some common misconceptions about how to help bullied students.
You should never tell a child to ignore the bully, she said.
"'Leave them alone and they'll leave you alone' is the single most insensitive thing you can say to a bullied child," Blanco said.
Parents and teachers also should not assume that children think like adults, she said, joking about how often kids worry about the performance of their 401(k) funds.
Many bullied children seem like "old souls" with mature vocabularies who relate better to adults than their classmates. Still, they are "just as desperate as the next child to fit in," Blanco said.
"To a kid, the future is after school," she said. "The distant future is what they're going to do on Saturday night."
It's also important for adults to understand how they speak to a bullied child, and even the child's parents, she said. Semantics are important. For instance, using the word "solution" is better than "problem."
"The minute you use the word 'I,' you shift the dynamic of the conversation to you," she added. "If they ask about your childhood, share the information. If they don't, don't."
Children should be part of the solution if they're being bullied, she said. Forcing a resolution on a child who's being bullied can make the problem worse.
Bullying itself does not cause bullied children to commit suicide, Blanco said, but a desperate loneliness and feeling of invisibility do.
Children who deal with constant bullying often need a "fresh social start" and might need to get involved at a library or in theater, music, sports or other activities two or three towns away from home, Blanco said. The idea is to meet new people away from the bullies.