This is the final installment in a 3-part series on my family’s history with bullying. In this post, I give suggestions on how parents and children can fight back.
Pay attention to sudden change in behavior. Listen to what your kids say or don’t say. Look for warning signs: Withdrawal, trouble sleeping, anger, aggression, school tardiness and falling grades. A change in behavior could be puberty, but it may be that your child is being bullied. It’s on you to find out what’s going on. Pay attention and show you care.
Encourage your kids to speak up. Your children may be too embarrassed to talk about being bullied, especially to adults. But they should report it right away. If they feel the adult they've confided in isn't taking them seriously, they should tell another until someone takes action. That means you need to be open to hearing and responding to your kids as well. Start a dialog. A blog on the Internet (hint, hint) or a show on TV can spark discussion. Talk about your own life. Were you bullied? Were you a bully? Did you witness others being bullied? How did you deal with it? How do the students and teachers at school handle bullying?
Visit the school often and develop a good report with teachers, counselors and administrators. Establishing positive relationships and effective communication increases the chance that the school will pay closer attention to your children.
Get them involved in confidence building activities such as martial arts. Martial arts builds esteem and self-discipline which helps improve academic performance and social skills. In middle school, I took gifted classes at a classical school once a week. There, I found my love for writing. Kids need to know they have something wonderful and unique to offer the world. Parents telling them so is not always enough.
Remind your kids they are amazing just the way they are. Acceptance begins at home. Celebrate who they are, not what you want them to be. Let your kids know not everyone will like them, and that’s okay. Talk about real world issues, people and attitudes. Bullies have personal issues they take out on others. Your children don't have a problem, the bullies do. Your kids need to know that.
Encourage them to implement effective survival tactics. EXAMPLE: My husband, Darryl, was small and skinny for his age. He got teased and taunted a lot in middle school. But he befriended a new kid at the school by helping him with his math. The boy happened to be the biggest guy in the class and about two years older too. They became inseparable. The bullies saw the big guy and Darryl together and quickly refrained from teasing.
Have your children document bullying encounters. Instruct them to date the incident, write the names of those involved including witnesses, then write a brief paragraph of what happened. That way, you and your kids will have your own record of the abuse separate from school documentation - if there is any.
Meet the bully’s parents, preferably with a third party e.g. a counselor, at the school. Attend the meeting with the motive of working things out peacefully. All children should be present and encouraged to practice conflict/resolution.
When the taunting gets physical, take a stand. If your children can diffuse a situation by walking away or telling an authority, your kids should opt for that. But there may be times when neither is possible. That’s when it’s time to take a stand.
This is where I get controversial…
I don’t think children should subject themselves to being punching bags for bullies, and I feel Zero-Tolerance forces children to do so to avoid suspension. Yes, Zero-Tolerance was enacted to protect students (and the schools too). But some officials, administrators and parents feel it does more harm than good by penalizing kids who don't deserve the harsh punishment. Bullies and their victims are usually suspended when engaged in an altercation. There is no discernment of who started it. There's often no conflict/resolution. The school instructs the victims to not fight back and tell a teacher instead. To me taking blows is absurd. You can't always walk away. Therefore, I’ve adopted a philosophy for bullied kids who are physically assaulted: Defend yourself. I believe in an Honorable Suspension. This phrase was introduced to me by my son’s psychologist who also had a bullied child. After her son was beat up, she told him to stand up and fight back. Don’t let a bully beat him to a pulp. If he’s suspended for self-defense, so be it. He shouldn’t feel bad about it. There are far worse implications socially that could haunt a child if he allows himself to be assaulted. My son learned that the hard way. I wish that on no parent or child.
I’m not a proponent of violence by any means. But I’m not a fan of being beaten up without fighting back. Some parents are appalled by the thought of looking at a suspension honorably. But they should put themselves in the victim's place. Would you want to get beat down like that? If it’s true self-defense, I can’t see any other way of looking at it. Zero-Tolerance has forced my paradigm to shift.
That being said. No sticks, bricks, knives, gun, etc. Don’t let it be YOUR children bringing weapons in self-defense. Surely if your kids are caught, they will be expelled. If bullies are bringing weapons, it’s time to call the cops and perhaps take your children out of that school - pronto!
After an altercation at school, don’t allow your children to sign any documents until you arrive. Many times the school will write up the incident, and it may not be accurate. Your children should not have to sign documents until you see it and discuss it.
Notify the district, school board, police, your lawyer and/or even the press if you find that the school is blatantly negligent in effectively addressing the bullying issue.
If you feel you must, take your children out of the school. Find a new learning environment that’s more academically and socially suitable as well as accepting of who your children are. It’s amazing how the persona of a student is perceived differently in another school.
Have your children go to counseling whether in a group or individually. They need to talk it out.
Regarding cyber-bullying: Move the computer out of the kids' bedroom and into a public area of the house. Malicious comments and posts on social networks have risen to an all-time high. This way you can keep close watch of activities.
Limit Facebook and Twitter time. Insidious things that are posted only heighten the pain and harassment. Who needs to see that? “Friend” your kids, and check in once in a while. Let them know they can’t do Facebook or Twitter unless they “Friend” you. That means you need to get a clue on social media.
Include alternative social networking. EXAMPLE: There is a kid-friendly social network called Togetherville.com, developed for children under 13. Kids play games, create art, watch videos and communicate with parents, extended family and friends. It’s family friendly, safe and most of all, you control and monitor your kids' social networking activities.
It’s up to us the parents to do what we can to address bullying and keep our kids safe. What would you do to address bullying?