I do what I do professionally because I was being bullied. Until I was 11, I was isolated, taunted, struck with rocks, and pressured to do uncomfortable things. Lacking a better label, I was harassed almost every moment at school. I was alone.
The most damaging part of the whole thing was that I believed it was all my fault. I believed that my personal failures meant I deserved this treatment. The adults around me encouraged me to change, for me to be more like the other children and less of a target. I was made to be responsible for the abhorrent acts of others.
In light of the tragic and senseless death of Devan, and the realization across the region that bullying is not only rampant but also life-threateningly dangerous, I wanted to write what I believe can be done to combat bullying.
The most important thing a teacher can do is identify students who:
a) Seem to be isolated and not participating in the social elements of school.
b) Are a part of a social group that is not being accepted by the rest of the school.
c) Are being taunted and seems to be overwhelming on the receiving end of taunts (children who are bullied can be cruel too; it is more about the frequency and impact – for example, is a child only being cruel in retaliation?).
d) Children who are showing signs of depression, anxiety, and/or aggression.
Once a teacher has identified a child who is possibly the target of bullying, they should:
1. Inform the parents and provide them with resources to help their child.
2. Utilize “bystander children” and create opportunities for the bullied child to interact with children that are not participating in the bullying.
3. Evaluate the environment of the class and determine if changes need to be made to make the class more inclusive.
4. Talk with the student regularly and help them problem solve.
If you suspect your child is being bullied, here are some steps you can take:
1. Talk to your child and listen without trying to solve in the moment. If your child won’t talk to you, set up an appointment with a child and family therapist.
2. Contact the school immediately, bring your concerns, and work collaboratively to change your child’s school environment.
3. Monitor your child’s social media and online presence. Safety is more important than your minor child’s privacy. I think having a contract with them where you have all the passwords for their online accounts can foster trust.
4. Encourage healthy friendships and make your place a safe (and hopefully fun) environment that your child can feel comfortable inviting friends over.
5. Form relationships with other parents (for elementary children) and help by making plans.
6. Enroll your child in social skills classes.
7. Watch for signs of mental health concerns and bring them to your doctor.
8. Help your child build confidence through extra-curricular activities.
What You Can Empower Your Bystander Child to Do:
1. Explain to your child the power they have as a bystander and why it is your expectation that they make steps to reduce bullying at the school.
2. Encourage your child to invite a friend over that they haven’t invited before.
3. Develop empathy within your child by talking about the experiences other children have in the class and what they can do to improve the situation for others.
4. Though social conflict is an important part of development, help your child to problem solve in ways that don’t contribute to the isolation or bullying of one of their former friends.
Our schools need to be a safe place for every child. These are simply everyday steps that, as adults, we can take to reduce the impact. Systemic change is necessary, and more resources are required to help children who struggle with the social dynamic of our school system.
Please comment on anything you believe I have left out.