If you missed my earlier posts, Monday, I shared my daughter's personal story, Tuesday we looked at what constitutes bullying, Wednesday we talked about Who is a Bully, and Thursday we looked at Who are the Targets.
Today, we are going to wrap with the series with a look at how Bullying affects our schools and communities and what we as parents can do to stop it - whether our kids are the targets, the bullies, or even just the bystanders.
The effects of bullying on entire schools I found to be really eye-opening. Even if your child isn't the target of a bully themselves, their relationship with school and the atmosphere they experience every day is affected. We can't only pay attention when our child is directly impacted. They are being affected every day.
Impact of Bullying on Our Communities
Bullying isn't something that just happens to the victim and everyone moves on or grows out of it. There are very real effects on our children, schools, and communities because of it. Did you know:
- Dropout rates are higher in schools where incidents of bullying are more prevalent?
- 160,000 children miss school everyday because they are afraid of being bullied - 160,000!!
- 60% of boys identified as being bullies in grades 6-9 had a criminal conviction on their records by the age of 24! And 40% had three or more convictions on their records!
- Expulsions and declining academic achievement are higher in schools where bullying is more prevalent.
- Incidents of Muslim children being bullied are statistically on the rise.
- Children of same-sex parents statistically have a higher risk of being the target of bullies.
- Bullying and stereotyping have significant impact on the GPAs of high-achieving Black and Latino students. Those who had high GPAs in their freshman year, then experienced bullying or stereotyping, saw a 3 point decrease in their GPAs by Senior year!
- Bullying cost school districts not only in attendance and academic achievement, but also financially, due to a need for alternative placements for students affected by bullying and also a higher number of incidents of vandalism.
Do you find any of that acceptable or justifiable? Does any child deserve to be ostracized or ridiculed because of their parents, their faith, or their social standing? We know that a good education sets the standard for achievement later in life. Could you stand by and watch your school fail in their duty to our kids because of this type of behavior?
Our communities are rich with diversity and we can accept and embrace it, or treat it with suspicion and anger. We don't have to disregard our own values and beliefs to accept differences in our neighbors. If we choose to react with anger and suspicion, are we, in turn, creating a situation for our children where they are only isolating and frustrating themselves trying to find a "perfect" place where everyone is like them?
What do parents need to do?
First of all, parents of both bullies and victims need to understand the realities their children are dealing with. You cannot bury your head in the sand and pretend nothing is happening.
If your child is a Target of a Bully:
- Listen to your child. If they are telling you a story about their day, give it your full attention and ask questions. Now is not the time to be paying bills or writing a blog post or watching TV. If they are sharing an incident involving their bully, they are relating something deeply painful and difficult and are looking to you for guidance and help. Role-play possible scenarios. Try using humor. Look at online resources together. Set a plan of specific action to follow. Be supportive, attentive, and proactive. Don't tell them to "ignore" the bully or just "walk away." It doesn't work and your child knows it.
- If you recognize some of the risk factors for having a child be a Target that I listed in my earlier post, address them now! No matter how much we want to fight every battle and shield our children from every hurt, when we do so, we aren't letting them develop the skills and self-confidence needed to be a strong and successful person. There are so many resources available to help us learn when to step in and when to step back, even when it's really hard.
- If your child is a target, ask them what they have done so far, then give them concrete ideas of what to try next. Do not dismiss the bullying as part of growing up or tell them to toughen up or ignore it. If they can, suggest using humor, presenting themselves as self-confident, or reacting strongly and immediately to the bully to catch them off-guard. Teach them better methods of problem solving and encourage them to spend time with other friends. Role-play possible scenarios. Targets need to learn better problem-solving methods and self-confidence that they can take control back from the bully. Of course, if the bullying is severe enough to cause physical harm, if it is damaging to their long-term self-esteem, or if it is an on-going campaign, you must contact your child's teacher or school principal. Schools should have zero-tolerance policies in effect for bullying and have methods in place for dealing with it effectively.
- If the administration is not responsive to the situation, do not give up! If necessary, try:
- contact the district office and let them know that your school's administration is not handing a case of bullying effectively.
- Network with other parents. Chances are, other children have had run-ins with the bully or have witnessed the behavior. The more reports, the harder it is for the school to ignore.
- Contact your school district's resource officers, if available.
- Contact the bully's parents directly and let them know you expect the behavior to stop.
- Check and see if there are bullying incident report sites online for your district or community. If all else fails, contact your local media.
But, under no circumstances, do you ever give up - your child is counting on you and learning from your actions. You are your child's best advocate. If you aren't getting satisfaction from school administration, remember - you are the parent. Parents trump everyone when it comes to the welfare of their child.
- Involve them activities where they have the opportunity to make new friends and learn skills and achievements that will strengthen their sense of self-worth and accomplishment.
- Make sure your child understands that violence is never the answer. Bullying another child or the bully themselves only perpetuates the situation. And, to be sure, reacting with violence, like fighting or weapons is always and completely wrong. They must know there are other options. They need to learn self-confidence, problem solving skills, and trusts in adults to be able to handle conflicts both now and in the future.
If your child is a possible Bully:
- Ask questions! If your child relates a story where they did something unkind, address it immediately! My middle son did something that was well below my expectations of him once and we addressed it right then and there. Then, I stayed on him until he apologized. I did not pretend that his actions were justified because of the actions of the other person involved. I expect my children to be responsible for their actions and I expect them to suffer the consequences of bad behavior. If that involves embarrassment, so be it. Natural consequences many times are the best teachers.
- If you recognize any of the risk factors for bullies listed in my earlier post in your family, address them now! You are the first best defense against these behaviors and there is always time to change the course. Get help, if necessary. Don't be ashamed or embarrassed. Millions of families struggle with issues every day. If we aren't learning, we aren't living. Don't wait until there is a problem. Be proactive. And let your child know if you've behaved in a way that you know isn't right. Besides letting your child know that that behavior isn't acceptable, you are also teaching your child that mistakes don't have to define who we are and how we can change and grow!
- If you are told about a bullying incident involving your child, don't automatically assume that it's the victim's fault and your child is innocent. New flash - all our kids are capable of making mistakes and bad choices. How would you feel if your child's actions resulted in another child harming themselves? And how much pain is your child in if bullying is the only way they have of expressing themselves?
For all our children, even those who aren't personally dealing with these issues:
- Teach your child that it's never OK to look the other way when another child is being bullied. You will never know the positive effect it will have on, not only the victim, but on your child, as well, to be able to stand up and say, "NO!" They should not keep bullying incidents they witness to themselves, but always tell an adult. Assure them that there are adults who can and will help. Bullies do not like to target a someone with friends and social connections. By lending strength to someone in need, you child becomes stronger and more confident too.
- Monitor your child's online activities! In my house, I have all the passwords to any social networking account, phones are up for inspection, if necessary, and I know what apps are on every phone and iTouch in my family. The truth is, I don't have to intervene for the most part. I've raised them with an awareness of the issues and they know my expectations clearly. My kids have always had TVs, computers, and, when they were old enough, their own phones. But, that just meant I had more devices to keep an eye on. If you don't know what apps your child is using or what they are posting on Facebook, there's a problem. Being too busy is not an excuse. Neither is a lack of computer knowledge. Learn and get involved.
I jokingly call being a parent "one long survival course". There are ups and downs and not everything is going to be class parties, crafts, and sleepovers. If we, as parents, don't look reality square in the face, if we don't set clearly defined limits and expectations, if we shield our precious little angels from the natural consequences of their actions, and if we don't give them the skills they need to overcome and succeed, we are failing in our most important job.
It's up to us to make the changes, in our homes, in our schools, and in our communities, that we say we want to see in the world. It all starts at home.