Bullying: Sandbox through Senior Year.

When counseling at elementary and middle schools, kids would talk all the time about being bullied.  I’d advise them to talk to the bully and tell him/her to stop.  I’d also encourage them to talk to their teachers and ask for help.  They’d nod their heads and leave my office.  Occasionally, they followed my advice and were successful.  But the majority of the time they kept quiet.

These kids weren’t ignoring me; they were scared.  They’d concluded (right or wrong) that confronting bullies directly and/or telling their teachers would often lead not to less but more bullying.

Sometimes both kids were pulled into the office to try to work things out. This worked some of the time, but more frequently it continued and parents were called in.  This also helped some of the time, but as often as not the other kid’s parents were bullies, too.  No solutions were reached, and the parents would worry that the bullies would get bullied at home and take it out on their kids the next day.

Fast forward to high school.  Kids are theoretically more mature and better able to work things out on their own and/or with the support of counselors and/or administrators.

At the same time, the bullying is often more sophisticated and subtle.  In speaking with counselors of adolescent girls, they talk about eye rolling, social isolation, rumor spreading and cyber bullying.  It’s tough for administrators to respond when one girl says what amounts to, “She looked at me funny.”  And I think schools are still fine-tuning how to respond to cyber-bullying.

Adolescent boys tend to be far less subtle. Sadly, physical intimidation and racial comments are common, and homophobic slurs are made regularly.  If you ever hear adolescent boys speaking freely, the call each other “fag” and “gay” when they disagree with or don’t like someone.  Many boys just dish it right back and go on with their days.  Others are deeply hurt.

What’s clear is that for bullying to be dealt with effectively, there needs to be interventions on a number of levels.  Yes, kids should try to work things out on their own. Yes, teachers can help facilitate these conversations.  Yes, school administrators need to intervene and give consequences when appropriate.

But to deal as effectively as possible, schools need to look beyond specific incidents and form a school-wide plan for preventing and responding to bullying.  Some schools do this really well, while others struggle.

No matter how well a school does to minimize bullying, it’s going to exist, and parents need to support their kids on whatever level is necessary to minimize it.  If it means helping your kid talk about it and figure out strategies for dealing, do it.  If it means dropping an email to your child’s teacher(s), do so.  If it means talking to school administrators, go for it.

Keep in mind, though, that your child isn’t an angel and likely has contributed to the problem.  So talk to school personnel about your concerns rather than blaming, and be open to hearing that your child has contributed much more than he/she has told you.  Ask if there’s any way you could be helpful.  Get involved in the school’s parents’ group and advocate for both the existence of and incorporation of school-wide policies.  Read books, go to conferences, get educated, and talk to other parents about ways to support your kids.

Sadly, the bullying won’t stop altogether.  But at least you’ll be working positively toward minimizing the problem.



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