Parental Steps to Helping a Child Deal with School Bullies
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.
That was a phrase I heard many times over as a child – I have to say I wasn’t sure that I agreed with it then and certainly don’t now, but the message was unequivocal.
The idea, of course, was that the verbal teasing could get under your skin only if you let it do so. The message was buck up, believe in yourself and hold your head high despite the mean-spirited critics around you.
From my memories as a child growing up, I can attest to the fact that bullying and hard-core teasing were concepts we dealt with on a daily basis. I can say from a voice of experience that those who insist that the issue is unique or somehow worse with today’s young people are flat out wrong.
Four Bullied Teens, One Ohio School
Memories of mean spirited classmates came flooding back to me when I read Meghan Barr’s piece on the tragedies that have befallen one high school in Ohio. Four teens, all with one commonality, bullied by their peers, have ended their own lives in the last two years. It was a striking article as I cannot comprehend anyone taking their own life for any reason.
Barr goes through each one’s story in candid detail. Sladjana Vidovic, a 16-year-old native of Croatia with a very thick accent, hung herself. Eric Mohat, a flamboyant young man who preferred to wear pink most of the time, used a gun to take his life.
Three weeks after Mohat ended his time, Meredith Rezak, 16, also shot herself. Jennifer Eyring, an accomplished equestrian who had a learning disability, died from an overdose of antidepressant pills.
Two of the parents are currently suing the school for not taking action to stop the harassing behavior. In Meghan Barr’s story, one national anti-bullying expert placed the problem squarely with the school.
Barbara Coloroso told Barr that the school ‘is allowing a culture of mean to thrive, and school officials should be held responsible for the suicides — along with the bullies.’
“Bullying doesn’t start as criminal,” Coloroso is quoted. “They need to be held accountable the very first time they call somebody a gross term. That is the beginning of dehumanization.”
Whether the school is at fault or not, we cannot say. But we can say that there are concrete steps parents can take to help their child deal with such behaviors when they witness them.
What’s a Parent to Do?
If you take the time to read the article we have mentioned, you will no doubt be fearful of how your child may be treated in the school setting. It is important to note that the vast majority of students make it through the school years positively with most indicating the school years were a good experience overall.
Simply stated, preventing your child from ever being harassed or bullied is not a reasonable expectation. There are people, who by their very make-up, will seek opportunities to bully and harass others.
Parents must take the steps to help their child reduce the possibilities of being mistreated as well as teach them how to deal with the issue when it occurs. In doing so, we do not recommend using the proverbial line of old, sticks and stones…..
The first step is to help your child build a core group of friends early on in life that he or she can rely on at school. Beginning with any form of early organizational activities, from T-ball to dance class to time at the Y, getting your child into activities develops interests where they meet and develop relationships with others.
Next, having other early social opportunities such as birthday parties, playground picnics, and other such low-key events is a great way to help your child learn to socialize. These events, organized and unorganized, can help create an early peer group of youngsters that hang together. These youngsters will then tend to look out for one another when they get to new settings or uncomfortable developments at school.
The second step is to make your child aware that this type of behavior may occur and prepare them for the possibility. All too often, parents hope for the best and then try to react when a situation develops.
Educating your child that there will be some people who will exhibit this behavior and then giving them concrete strategies for dealing with it is essential. The first step is to insist that your child not follow along when someone is being teased, that you will not tolerate them mistreating others. In other words, they must understand that the behavior is wrong and that they are never to be involved in such behavior.
While we might want our child to stand up for the one being targeted or to the bully targeting them, the simplest step is to have the child remove him/herself from the situation. If they have developed a core peer group, they can encourage that group to also remove themselves.
A collective stance is far easier to take. Most importantly, they, as a group should alert the adult caregivers of the situation whenever it occurs with others, not just when they are recipients of the harassment or bullying behavior.
Ongoing, Abusive Treatment
Lastly, if your child falls victim to serious harassment or abuse, you must take the step of meeting with all of his or her teachers and school administration. By the term victim, we are not referring to someone looking cross-eyed at your child or refusing him or her a certain place on the playground or in the lunchroom.
But if your child is called vicious names and is the victim of taunting and teasing, you must alert school officials as to what is taking place and where. In doing so, avoid the fist-pounding and the threat of lawsuits befalling the district if they don’t get a handle on things.
Instead, discuss calmly and rationally what is taking place and then develop a concrete plan for how your child will alert school officials when the behavior is an issue. At the same time, ask teachers if they will kindly look out for your youngster, to keep an eye on the areas where issues have developed in the past.
Seek a commitment from them that they will watch but at the same time empower them to call you the parent, if by chance your child is the responsible party when a situation develops. Such an approach will demonstrate that you want the behavior to be limited so that all children have a positive school experience.
Bullying Will Always Be an Issue
To be frank, bullying and various forms of harassment are certain to occur to some extent even in the best schools. The difference is that the schools that take the issue seriously will respond and respond strongly when they become aware of the problem.
Most schools today take a very active approach and offer a general education anti-bullying component. We are not sure what is taking place at the aforementioned Ohio school but most take the issue very seriously.
Clearly, given what has happened in Ohio, parents also need to take the issue seriously as well. In fact, it is imperative that you give your child the tools to handle the challenges – it is easily the best step one can take.