Protecting Our Children From Being the Next Victim of a School Bully
Recent stories in the headlines about school bullies don’t leave me feeling secure in the knowledge that our kids are safe in the walls of their schools. If bullying can go so far that kids are harassed so badly that they would rather kill themselves than go to school, then there is something very wrong in our school systems and the world we live in.
Let’s face it, schoolyard bullies have changed with the times. My recent rant discussing the tragedy of South Hadley High School struck many chords. But the one we didn’t really get to touch on is what parents need to do in order to be the best advocate possible against the bullies their children encounter at school.
While many school districts across America have instituted the most strict anti-harassment policies that doesn’t mean that bullying and harassment won’t happen; it just means that the students who are doing the bullying and harassing have less wiggle room to get away with it.
However, even if your school does have the best anti-harassment and bullying policy -- it can’t protect kids all the time. That’s where you come in. You can take steps to make sure your child is having a positive school experience.
Talk It Up
Children in elementary school are usually more than happy to tell you about their day. If your child stops sharing their day with you or you find them coming up with reasons not to go to school, it’s time to find out what’s going on. Start the conversation with questions that can be answered easily, (yes or no) and then open them up to questions that require more elaboration.
Back To School
Unfortunately, if your child is the victim of harassment, they may not be willing to talk and share details. Being bullied can be embarrassing and opening up may mean facing what’s happening to them. Regardless of if your child is open about what’s going on at school or clams up at the mention, make an appointment to meet with your child’s teachers, counselors and principal to get to the bottom of the problem and find a solution.
Keep All Eyes and Ears Open
There are many schools that still aren’t up to par on how to handle today’s school bullies. They lack the resources or the funding to put into place a program to properly protect kids. At home, you need to be aware of who your kids are texting, messaging and talking to – both online and off. Parent controls can be helpful for any computers in the home that your child may use.
A Case For Snooping
I’m not giving you license to go through your child’s things but you should have access to your child’s social networks and cell phone. Keep the lines of communication with your child open and make them aware of why you want access to this information so that they understand your reasons. Online message programs may have an option to keep messages or even store them in a temporary file on your computer’s hard drive. Looking through your child’s personal online and offline activity is a touchy subject but if there is a case of harassment, it’s imperative that you have access to this information.
Schools are still struggling to keep up with the bullies but many have taken a proactive stance by implementing peer groups, computer usage policies, and even creating anti-harassment task forces.
While the death of the South Hadley High School girl is tragic, it doesn’t have to become the norm. I firmly believe that it could have been prevented if the school’s administration had taken a more proactive stance.
That still leaves the question about what you can do if you meet with a less than responsive school and your child is the one being harassed.
Talk to the school board – If you find that the school is doing little to protect your child, make an appointment to meet with the superintendent. School teachers, your child, counselors, the principal and anyone that you’ve spoken to, or is aware of the bullying, should be present.
Keep notes of every time you’ve called the school or spoken with someone about the bullying your child is experiencing. Also be sure to have your child keep track of what is happening and who they tell at school, too.
Speak to the police if you are finding that the school and the administration is not responsive. Regardless of whether or not the bullying is happening on school grounds or off, the police should be aware of the situation and if nothing else, at least have it documented in a report. This can help them in the long run if the bullying or harassment escalates into violence. No one should have to feel unsafe to go to school.
As a parent, you are your child’s biggest and best advocate for their care and wellbeing at school. I know I’ve said this before but that’s because it’s so very true.
In addition to these suggestions, what else would you recommend we can do to protect our children from school bullies?