Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Epidemic of Bullying - Part 1

* This is Part 1 of a five part series on Bullying

I hadn't really planned on the first offical parenting post in this blog being a serious topic. I thought I'd start it off with something a little lighter, an ode to spit up or something like that. However, a post on Facebook this morning made me change my mind. We can't avoid serious topics just because we would prefer to keep it light.

The Facebook post that sparked this train of thought was a link to an article from the Huffington Post about the seven signs your child may be a victim of bullying. This is a pretty important aspect because often times children are too afraid or to embarrassed to tell their parents that bullying is taking place, or when they have told their parents it has been dismissed by them as "good natured teasing". (I sometimes question if there really is such a thing as good natured teasing, but that is a whole different post). So obviously the first step in helping your child deal with bullying is to know that it is happening.

So then what? Once you know bullying is taking place, how do you as a parent help your child deal with it? I don't know that there is a good answer for this question. As a child psychologist, I all too often find myself face to face with children and teens who have been brought to see my by their concerned parents because they are being bullied at school. Sadly, even as a professional, I have very little in my tool box that can make the situation better. The reality of the situation is that those doing the bullying are the ones that need to be sitting in my office.

My role as a psychologist, and your role as a parent, is to advocate for these children, teach them how to keep themselves safe, help them cope with their feelings, and help boost their self-esteem. That last one is extremely important. Any type of bullying, whether it be physical or verbal, is damaging to a child's sense of self-worth. This multi part series on bullying will address these areas.

Today we will address advocacy

Advocacy: Parents and adults involved with children who are being bullied need to advocate for these children. Not only can this help to stop the bullying, but it also sets an example for children regarding how to appropriately stand-up for themselves (as long as the adult is advocating in an appropriate way. So try to avoid swearing and making threats of your own). It also shows children that they have people in their life that love and care for them, which is extremely important to self-esteem.

Let me use my nephew as an example. There have unfortunately been a couple of different perpetrators of bullying behavior towards him. The first one was I believe when he was in the 3rd grade, and believe it or not, the bully was his teacher (yes adults can be bullies too). My sister noted that her son would frequently try to get out of going to school and sometimes she would get calls from the school that he wasn't there and she would go home and he would be sitting on the front steps. My sister tried to get him to talk to her about what was going on and eventually he broke down and told her how he hated his teacher and how she said mean things about him. Now we've all heard kids say how mean their teacher is and how they pick on them, but in my nephew's case it was very much the truth. (So of your child is telling you this please at least do some follow-up on it). My nephew has a pretty significant learning disability and this teacher would call him stupid and lazy in front of the rest of the class and would do things to humiliate him. Of course once my sister found out what was happening, she went to the school and advocated for my nephew. The school made gestures to improve the situation, but nothing really ever improved. Finally my sister demanded that he be placed in another classroom; however, by then the damage had been done to his self-esteem, as well as his enjoyment of school.

The second incident of bullying happened this year, when my nephew started being bullied by a classmate, who was also a neighbor, and someone who used to be one of his best friends. Once again, my sister took to the school to advocate. My nephew was being removed from the class to talk to the guidance counselor when incidents would occur, and they were talking about moving him into another class so the boy wouldn't have the opportunity to bully him. At first glance, these seem like reasonable solutions; however, the problem here is that nothing is being done with the child who is doing the actual bullying. My sister had to advocate for her son to stay in this class, which is the first class he has succeeded in since that horrible incident in 3rd grade.

These are the steps that adults need to take to advocate for children. You have to fight until you get a reasonable and fair "solution" to the issue. You have to make those in power listen to your concerns and do something about them. You have to make them enforce those no tolerance for bullying policies. Believe me, if you won't do it no one will.

For additional resources on bullying check the U.S. Government's website.

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