Bullying: What to do?
When I was young, walking home from school, two larger boys, with several girls looking on, started pushing me backwards. I didn’t see the low wooden fence behind me. I fell on my rear onto the grass. Everyone laughed at me. Humiliated and furious I ran home.
I plotted revenge, which I hoped to exact over the next few days. Fortunately, I never had the opportunity. That afternoon is etched in my memory, even though it happened over four decades ago!
How many of us have experienced bullying? One recent study found that 23% of boys and 18% of girls have been victims. Often times, out of fear and humiliation, victims don’t report these incidents. In recent years, “cyberbullying” has become a new, cruel way of harassing youngsters using cell phones, social media, and the internet. These humiliations can go “viral” as they are shared with scores of other kids. The bully is physically removed from the consequences of their actions—and they are hard to catch. They can have devastating consequences.
Although it can happen during any grade, bullying is most prevalent during middle school. It most often occurs when youngsters enter new schools—middle school (6th grade) or high school (9th grade).
There are a number of risk factors correlated with bullying—negative school environment, teacher attitudes, classroom characteristics, exposure to media violence (studies clearly show that exposure to violent video games, television, and film are associated with greater levels of aggression), family strife, alcohol and drug abuse, and depression in children.
Sadly, in several school studies, 40% of teachers and administrators indicated that bullying was a major problem in their school, with 62% witnessing two or more incidents of bullying in the previous month. Forty one percent witnessed bullying once a week or more. Check out www.stopbullying.gov for more information.
All too often, in my experience, the victim is blamed by adults. “He shouldn’t show that he is upset– that just gives the bully more ammunition”, “He just needs to learn how to “toughen up”, “She shouldn’t cry in front of those girls”, or “She should learn how to ignore their insults”. Yet, in our workplaces, the employer is responsible for maintaining and promoting a harassment free environment. Allowing an employee to be the victim of a “hostile work environment” can result in huge fines.
Actions a parent can take when your child is victim of bullying:
- Talk to your child. Express your concerns and empathize with child. Reinforce that it is not their fault. Let her know that you are glad she is talking to you about this problem
- Work on developing a plan with your youngster. This can include a variety of actions, some taken by you and some by your child—talking with a teacher, school administrator or guidance counselor; having an older child walk with a younger child home; rehearsing strategies to deal with the situation; or enlisting the support and help from other adults.
- Find out what your local school policies are regarding bullying. Understanding the policies and procedures of your school system on these issues can be very helpful in working with school personnel.
- Work with your local PTA to promote bully prevention/intervention programs in the school. I do understand that schools struggle to meet a wide range of educational and social needs. But, when local schools make this a priority in their curriculum, there is often a decrease in bullying. It takes a community wide effort to be effective.
- Do not expect a solution on the spot. It is very important to be persistent and to reassure your child that you will not give up until a solution is found. But, frequently it takes time to enlist the support of school and community leaders. Don’t have unrealistic expectations. Remember that school systems are unable to release information about disciplinary actions that are taken against other students.
- Do not encourage your child to harm the person who is bullying them. Your child could be hurt, suspended, or expelled. It is the wrong message to give.
It takes a “small village” to raise a child. But it also takes a community wide effort to put an end to harassment at school and in our community.
Let’s hear from you! Share your challenges and successes on this issue!