"Some dads, especially, will say, 'Same thing happened to me when I was your age. I broke the bully's arm and that was that,'" says Sheras. "Then the child feels like, 'If I'm not good enough to do that, I guess I'm going to have to spend the rest of my life being beaten to a pulp.'"
Overreacting can be equally harmful.
"Another reason kids are nervous to tell their parents is they're afraid their parents will march into the principal's office and say, 'I demand Charlie is brought into this office this instant to put an end to this,'" says Lowen. "Or, 'I'm gonna drive over to that kid's house right now and tell his mother.'"
Or parents interrogate their child to the point of the child feeling blamed, says Wiseman. "'Where were you? Who was there? Did you talk to the teacher? What did the teacher say? What did you say to the other kid?'" she says. "All of these questions come across as accusations, and the kid just shuts down."
Find a solution together. It's tempting to dive in and fix it for them — but they're the ones who have to live with the solution.
"Stop what you're doing and say, 'Wow, that's really hard. I'm really sorry that happened to you,'" says Wiseman. "'Thank you so much for telling me and let's sit down and think about what we can do about it.'"
"Develop a plan of what your child and you want to have happen," says Lowen. "Is it a matter of asking the principal to reassign a locker to somewhere in the building with more supervision? Is it asking a teacher to stand in the hall between classes? Is it helping your teen put together a list of things they want to bring to the principal? Do they want a counselor present?
"We have to build our children's trust that we're not going to react to things they've told us in a way that's uncomfortable to them," Lowen says. "And we have to give them the skills and the confidence to say, 'I have a part in this. I'm not just a target, I'm part of the solution.'"
Remember you make a difference: Parents often feel like their teens reject their advice out of hand. But experts say parental perspective goes a long way toward combating and alleviating the pain of bullying.
"Parents are probably more aware of what's going on in their kids' social circles than ever before," says Lowen. "If you notice someone's conspicuously not in a group any more, ask about it. If you hear your daughter and her friends talking bad about someone, pay attention and bring it up."
And sometimes they just need a reminder that things get better.
"They haven't lived through a zillion relationships that break up and make up and grief and loss and job changes," says Goldman. "They don't know how resilient they can be. They don't have a lot of evidence or proof that life goes on.
"Set a goal," Goldman says. "'Let's get through these next six months. Things will change.' You have to let them know, even if it feels like the end of the world, you will feel other joys. You won't always be in this seventh circle of hell."
When your child is the bully
As hard as it is to learn that your child is being victimized, it can be even more traumatic to discover your child is the bully.
"It's really hard to get that phone call from another parent or the school," says Cynthia Lowen, producer and writer of the 2011 documentary "Bully." "Parents feel vulnerable and wonder, 'What values have I given my kid? What have they seen going on between me and my partner?' It's personal."
But consider the news a blessing, she says. "It gives you an opportunity to take stock of how your child is using his or her social power. If they're having anger management issues, if they're going through trauma or something at home or school."
Humiliated, a lot of parents want to shut themselves off from the messenger. Big mistake, says Lowen.
"Work together to get to the bottom of the issue," she says. "Use it as an opportunity to say, 'Things have gotten totally off-track here. How do we get this back on track?' If your child has a lot of social cachet. If they are someone other kids look up to. If they're a big bruiser of a kid. How can these qualities be used to be a leader among their peers, rather than someone who's hurting their peers?"
And remember that it doesn't define your child.
"In another situation," she says, "he or she might be on the receiving end of bullying. It's a very complicated problem. Kids don't fit neatly compartmentalized into 'bullies' or 'victims.'
"All of us at some point will misuse our power," she says. "This isn't always the portrait of a little sociopath. The majority of kids don't continue to use those behaviors as the way in which they navigate the world."