Tackling Bullies

If you’ve been reading my stories for any length of time, you’ll notice that a common theme I discuss is in regards to bullying (like here, and here, and here). It makes sense. I’m a parent of kids who are only growing older. And as they grow older, the issue of bullying is becoming more of an epidemic in their schools. I worry about it. I worry that my kids will be targeted. I worry that any action or inaction I take will only make things worse for them. And with the way bullying can take any shape or form – from violence to mere teasing to using their Facebook pages as the ultimate tool in gathering the masses – I worry that my own kids will become guilty of bullying others as well.

More recently, I talked about a friend of mine who was potentially going through her own bullying situation. Her son was being challenged to a fight by a kid who was bigger and stronger, just to see who the winner would be. Basically it was a battle of brawn with an obvious outcome. As an update, nothing came up about it. The fight talk ended up being just that – talk. But in the meantime, my friend was suddenly faced with needing to know how to react to a kid who was threatening other kids, even just through empty threats. And the comments received on the blog (and any other blog that I have discussed bullying) were mixed. Some said to let the kids fight it out. Another said that school officials needed to be alerted immediately so that the bullying could be quashed. And another said to teach our sons and daughters to walk away.

The truth is, it’s hard to know how to handle a bully situation as a parent. Remembering what it was like to be a kid, the common feeling was that if a parent got involved, we were toast. Not only were we completely mortified, we were afraid of being more of a target for being a narc. So it was pretty much a given that any teasing we endured was kept from our parents so that we could at least save a little face.

And the bullying I witnessed in school was truly mean-spirited. One girl who was on the awkward side had an obvious crush on a popular boy in school. A group of girls created a love letter to her from him, with his knowledge. The girl was floating on Cloud 9 – until the boy broke up with her in front of everyone, making everyone laugh. Another girl had rumors circling around school about her solo bedroom behavior. And then there was the group of kids who thought it was funny to pants other students in gym class, thanks to the convenience of drawstring shorts (apparently these kids never graduated; my 7th grade daughter says this still happens in gym class). There was teasing about body parts thanks to the absence of modesty in the gym locker rooms. And there was peer pressure to try things we never would have done on our own, like drinking hard liquor in between classes or smoking pot behind the school or cutting class.

In truth, the bullying of yesterday was not better or less than the bullying of today. It was just as much a reality then as it is now. But now it has become much easier to target others thanks to the advances in technology. This is why schools have stepped up their efforts to stop bullying in their tracks, even including consequences for “cyber-bullying” done inside and outside of school hours in their rules.

And some schools have adopted a new anti-bullying program called SSA – Safe School Ambassadors.

I learned of SSA when my daughter was recently nominated to take part in it. The program targets the escalating problem of bullying by tackling from within – training a group of influential students to work amongst their peers to help alleviate negative situations more effectively. Note, it does not train kids to break up fights or to take on violent situations. Nor does it set them apart from their classmates by making them wear vests or badges. But it instead gives them tools to handle situations on the spot within their own group of friends so that circumstances involving bullying can be easily diffused. Due to the “narc problem”, adults are more likely than not to be ignorant of what students are really going through. At one point in the training program, the students discussed the things they had witnessed on school grounds. As they mentioned the weapons they had seen, the drugs kids their age were taking, and other scary situations that were taking place, my daughter told me that the teachers were holding their hands over their gaping mouths in shock. We just don’t know what kids are going through. We don’t know what kinds of peer pressures they are being faced with. We can be the best parent in the world and still be unaware that our child is being tormented by others or that they are guilty of being the tormentor. So a peer based anti-bullying program makes sense.

But as parents, what is within our realm of power to protect our children from bullying? First, forget the narc problem. If you learn of something going on, discuss it with the principal or the teacher so that it can be handled quickly and effectively. If your kids are targeted more, speak up more. Send the message loud and clear that your child is not a victim, and any negative action against your child will reap a world of hurt in consequences.  Get to know your children’s friends and their parents, creating a network of people to fight this battle together. Go to PTA meetings and school events to broaden that network. If your children are on social networks, be a presence on there too. It is not infringing on their privacy to be their Facebook friend. It is being aware of their online activity. In fact, in my household my kids are only allowed to be on social networks if I am not only their “friend”, but if I also know their password to log on. It is common knowledge that I check up on them by accessing their accounts and knowing what they are up to – including their “private” conversations and viewing their friends’ pages. The same rule applies to my daughter’s cell phone.  It is not being nosy.  It is not snooping.  It is ensuring that my kids are safe, and that they are engaging in only safe and respectful activity.  And if I see something that goes against that, I bring it out in the open with them.

Do you have an opinion on handling bullying? Are there things you have witnessed that shock or anger you? What are some things that we as parents can do to help our kids, or that the schools should be doing to tackle this problem?

4 thoughts on “Tackling Bullies

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  1. Fantastic post. Its rare to see such a balanced and well considered perspective, Yes, kids can be ruthlessly vicious. And parental intervention sometimes does make things worse.

    The Safe School Ambassador concept is brilliant – and will probably be far more effective than 99% of the standard school-based anti bullying programs.

    I wish you well,

  2. Well, unfortunately the one aspect of bullying I’ve seen personally happened on the part of a parent; my son was being bullied by a boy he considered a “friend.” However, at this particular time the boy had decided he could gain more influence with the overall group by picking on my son in front of the others, “freezing him out” at recess and other forms of ostracizing. My son broke down in tears while explaining this, and described being relegated to crying alone against the wall during recess, mainly because he didn’t understand how one he called a friend could suddenly turn on him. I brought this to the attention of his teacher, not so she could single the other child out for a lecture, but so that, when she was the one on yard duty, she might keep an eye out for this treatment and possibly intervene if necessary. To my knowledge, nothing ever came of it, however, according to my son the ostracizing stopped.
    Previously I and the mother of this boy were friendly with one another; after all, our sons were friends. But nowadays at pick up and drop off, where we used to exchange pleasantries and talk about our kids, now she won’t look at me or even come close to acknowledging my existence, as if having the temerity to intervene in the emotional welfare of my child amounted to some tacit judgment of her son. Hardly, I’m GLAD they are still friends, and I do wish we could be the way we were before. I never hoped to end their friendship, merely that this boy would see what he was doing –because this is something kids do and do learn from- and realize that friends don’t treat each other that way. This was the manner in which I told my son to address it on the playground. And he did. I believe that’s the reason the behavior stopped. I, as you probably know, prefer to have my son handle the problems he encounters on his own, and strive to see him equipped to do so.
    Now, to be clear, this boy has had run-in’s of his own with school authorities (they have both moved on and are in the same class again, different teacher). One incident involved a “question” of motive and what one might do if given the chance to do something just for fun. Without being specific, I’ll just say this child’s answer came from the viewpoint of one who is playing video games and watching television shows far too mature for one their age. The teacher tried to bring this to this parent’s attention and received a tongue-lashing for her trouble, reduced her to tears, actually.
    I am no wilting flower. Maybe that’s why she and I don’t talk anymore. WCM, with respect to all the avenues, I’ll say it again; train your children not to be victims. Make it so that the last thing anyone would ever want to do is victimize them.

    1. I hate bullying. And I’ll be honest, I feel like there really is no easy answer to how to handle it. Get involved, your kid becomes an outcast. Say nothing, your child gets bullied more. Talk to teachers, and it’s possible (like your situation) that your complaint falls on deaf ears and you are viewed nothing more than a very vocal nuisance (though I’m surprised that your situation did end up like that when bullying is being taken so much more seriously by the schools these days). And still, I don’t like the “teach your kids to fight” stance. Actually, I take that back. I agree that kids need to know how to defend themselves in case the worst happens. But I don’t want my kid to use it. Call me naive, I won’t disagree. Maybe it’s because I’m a mom and lacking the testosterone to be ok with the idea of my son hitting some other kid. I possess too much worry over who will get hurt rather than my kid so called “manning up”. I just feel like there has to be better ways to handle things than teaching our kids that handling bullies is to dodge the first blow and follow up with a one-two. How about what to do before the fighting starts to keep the fighting from happening at all?

      As for the mom of the bully/friend, perhaps she’s too embarrassed to make eye contact, etc? I know I would be if my son were pushing around some other kid. It’s possible that time will just naturally smoothe things over, or maybe even a friendly “hey, everything’s cool now” chat. At any rate, it’s unfortunate that her friendliness disappeared as soon as the situation was brought to the table. But as parents, we run that risk when we stand up for our kids. And while uncomfortable, it’s a small price to pay for our kids’ well being. Of course, I don’t have to tell you that. 😉

  3. I hate it, too, for real. I was bullied relentlessly as a boy, something I’ve pointed out before in this forum, I’m sure. Of course I understand, and for what it’s worth, I’m not an advocate of the “teach your kid to fight” stance either. “Teach to fight” suggests picking fights for whatever reason, whereas I prefer the “Jedi Way” if you will, where we use such things for knowledge and defense, NEVER for attack. My son knows that only words truly solve problems. Unfortunately a time may come where words aren’t going to work. I want him to be prepared. I once failed to react in a situation where “manning up” was the ONLY thing I could have done. I paid for it. For a long time, too. You’re right. There is no easy answer. I don’t want anyone to get hurt. But I have no problem telling someone that their kid has a broken arm because he threw a punch at my son, the third degree black belt. Ye reap what ye sow. Too much testosterone, I guess 😉 As for the mom, I think her son is testing her resolve and she’s unable to confront it positively or at all. I’ve tried to make amends, but she’s not having it.

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