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?