Although bullying was once viewed as a "rite of passage," it has become far more severe and dangerous now. Not only have attacks by other children become more serious, but there are far more ways to bully someone other than just grabbing their lunch bag or backpack.
With the introduction of today's new technology, school bullying is often continued after school hours via social networking sites, text messaging, instant messaging, blogging or general Internet posting of mean, cruel or malicious content. Studies show that up to half of all children are bullied in their lifetime, from elementary school on up. Last month an 11 year old boy in Atlanta hanged himself after being bullied relentlessly, and less than a month before that, another boy committed suicide in Massachusetts for the same reason.
The best way to help your child handle a school bullying situation is to recognize when it's happening and to deal with it immediately. Often children will remain quiet about being bullied because they are afraid or ashamed; therefore you need to be on the lookout for signals that something may be going on.
Some signs that your child may be being bullied at school are:
Damaged or missing clothing or personal belongings,
Unexplained bruises or other injuries,
They seem to have few friends or close contacts,
They seem reluctant to go to school,
They show poor school performance or increased difficulty concentrating on schoolwork,
They begin complaining of mystery physical ailments,
They seem to have trouble sleeping or eating,
They have unexplained mood swings which are out of the norm for their personality.
If your child is exhibiting some of these signs you'll need to act quickly. Long term consequences of bullying can be very severe in that children have higher rates of depression, anxiety, low self esteem and sometimes mental health conditions. They are also, as previously indicated, more likely to have thoughts of suicide.
Things to do once you believe your child might be being bullied:
Learn as much as you can about the situation. Sit down and speak with them in a loving, non-judgmental, non-threatening way. They are feeling threatened enough outside for them to be attacked again by their parent for being "weak" or "a wimp". Get specific details of people, places, events or witnesses so that you can have this information for future action. Also, find out if your child did anything to try to stop the bullying (i.e.: told a teacher or other adult, run away, fought back, etc).
Contact school officials and let them know both verbally AND IN WRITING what has been going on with your child. Let them know that you fully expect them to follow up on your complaint and contact you as soon as possible with the findings of their investigation and their plan for resolving the matter. Send an additional copy of your letter to the school district office and district legal department so that all parties involved will know that you mean business and that you will not hesitate to take legal action, if necessary.
Some experts advise against contacting the other parent but use your best judgment on that. As for me, I DID contact the parent of the student who was harassing my child and informed her that I expected her to assist me in taking care of this problem forthwith. It might not be a bad idea to remind the other parent that battery is a crime and you will not hesitate to call the police if your child comes home injured.
Do not encourage your child to fight the other kid. Chances are if your child was able to beat up the other kid, they would have done that already. It is NOT HELPFUL to tell your child to "Kick his butt!" This will further increase their feelings of helplessness and make the psychological aspect of the problem much worse.
Assure your child that you are handling the situation and to stay as far away from the other child/children as possible. Walk your child to school or show up throughout the day to provide moral support. Make sure your child knows you "have his/her back" and that you are not going to sit by and allow them to be victimized.
DO NOT be a wimp and tell your kid to just "ignore them". You have got to take an active role here and stand up for your child. They are depending on you to be strong and help them handle the situation, not to wimp out and allow them to continue to be attacked. Also, help build up their self confidence by involving them in sports, music, or other extracurricular activities.
Know when to seek professional help. Don't hesitate to involve mental health professionals if your child appears overly depressed or anxious. Also, don't hesitate to contact the police if your child is being physically attacked. And don't hesitate to take legal action against the school, the district or the parents of the other child/children. Often, the knowledge that you are not afraid to take such action can change things.
Remember, early intervention can help prevent lasting problems such as depression, anxiety and low self esteem. Don't leave your child to handle this alone. They need you now more than ever.
About Danine Manette:
Danine Manette is the author of the popular book Ultimate Betrayal: Recognizing, Uncovering and Dealing with Infidelity."
Danine Manette received a Bachelor's Degree in Social Welfare from the University of California at Berkeley and went on to earn her Doctorate from Hastings College of Law in San Francisco, California. She has worked as a Milieu Therapist, a Juvenile Probation Officer, and currently works in the field of Criminal Investigations.
Her ability to confront the topic of deception and betrayal is rooted not only in her educational and professional experience, but most notably she is a living testament to the effectiveness of the tactics and information presented to the reader.