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Moms Talk: Bullying in School

How to you help your child when they tell you they are being bullied at school?

Every week in Moms Talk, we discuss issues that relate to parenting and ways to survive and thrive in the role of motherhood. This week, our question focuses on bullying.

If your child comes home from school and tells you "lots of kids say mean things to me at school," what do you do? Beyond the initial sinking heart perhaps followed by a sleepless night, what is the best course of action?

We are in a state that requires school districts to craft policies prohibiting bullying, intimidation and harassment. Those policies should include procedures for reporting, investigation of bullying, and a prohibition against retaliation for reporting bullying. See Mercer Island School District's Administrative Policy 3207.

But it's hard to know whether it's best to let something "blow over," or when a lack of response will make harassment worse. In August of 2011 school districts are required to update their policies to provide for anonymous complaints and informal complaints, according to Linda Mangel, ACLU Education Equity Director. Mangel told a group of lawyers "when bullying goes unchecked it gets worse" at a talk on "Law and Liberty:  Student Bullying & Harassment." 

She also reminded us of what we already know--it might be against the law to retaliate but does not mean the law can prevent retaliation. While most statistics indicate more bullying occurs during middle school, Mangel noted that 15% of high school seniors and 20% of high school sophomores reported they'd been bullied. For LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bi-Sexual Transgender) students 9 out of 10 reported having been harassed, according to the ACLU's data.

Without reporting the problem, we won't be able to fix it. So I vote for raising the issue with a school administrator you trust (note the policy currently directs complainants to the district's "compliance officer") and keep pressing if the problem continues. While the law does not yet provide as much protection for students at school as it does for adults at the workplace, it's moving in that direction and the action or lack thereof taken by the school district will be relevant in a legal setting.

Robin March 24, 2011 at 03:35 PM
I am a parent of a 5 year old and I do stress to my child the importance of not being mean! I believe this is where it starts especially with girls "being mean". I don't want her to be a bully to anyone and I don't want her to be bullied. I also stress the importance of telling teachers if she feels something is not right or is she feels the other children are not being nice to her. When she gets home we discuss her day and she tells me and her dad if something has gone wrong or if she does not understand something. I think it is important to start at a young age with your children take time for them, what they have to say is very important and we as parents need to listen and hear more.
Nilki Benitez March 24, 2011 at 05:05 PM
Thanks Diane, for bringing up a really important topic--I think the comments by Robin and Edward are really fantastic. I'd like to add that one of the worst types of bullying can be very covert, and it probably doesn't get as much attention as it needs--which is excluding others from activities or conversations. In short: cliques (which can, and do, start in elementary school) we need to remind kids that leaving someone out is a form of bullying and games like "ditching" (yes! they do still play that!) are not really games but a form of bullying. Here are a couple of interesting articles: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110224121907.htm http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/10/fashion/10Cultural.html?pagewanted=all
DeAnn Rossetti March 24, 2011 at 11:52 PM
My sons class is doing a class project around a booklet called "Respecting Myself and Others" that helps kids learn how to deal with bullying and to stand up for themselves and resolve conflicts without violence. It's a sad comment that 90 percent of the class didn't have any trouble thinking of times they'd been bullied, and the other kids were just stalling and not wanting to talk about how they'd been hurt, I believe. My sons school policy is that if a child is being hit or hurt, they are NOT allowed to hit back, otherwise their punishment is as severe as the kid who started the bullying. I find this policy ridiculous and not at all helpful when a kid is in physical danger from another kid--like the time a boy half my sons size was choking him on the playground. Still, it has been my experience that the kids who bully are generally treated poorly at home, either abused or neglected, and really need to get help to manage their rage. Now that my son is going into middle school this fall, I fear that he will have to deal with even harsher bullying due to the communal shower situation and the appearance of hormones as the kids all start on puberty. I know that I was bullied and treated mercilessly from junior high through high school, and none of the administrative staff of the schools were any help at all. I think parents need to be at the forefront of helping their kids deal with bullies and other terrors of school life.
Julie Varon -John L. Scott Real Estate March 28, 2011 at 01:52 PM
I had the opportunity to see Peter Yarrow & Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul & Mary recently. One of the highlights of the evening was when Peter performed this song her wrote about bullying. He did much more than that as he has a program and actively campaigns against it. Once a peace maker...always a peace maker... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zZkdTLOv97A
Blessy Smith April 07, 2011 at 04:27 PM
Schools and parents can help fight bullying by working together and using tools that help connect all the dots more effectively. If you know that your child is being bullied you need to know how to communicate with your child to find out what's happening and how to communicate with your school to end the bullying. As a parent, we always look forward for the safety of our kids, where they can feel secured while inside or outside the school,it is important to educate our children on how to handle this kind of situation so that it will not be tolerated . As a mother, it is my responsibility to protect my children against any situation that could harm them. To this extent I provided them a tool that they could easily ask for immediate help for whatever problems that they might be encountering, and by that, it is easier for me as well to guide them from any possible hazardous situation. For more on your kids safety protection check this out http://safekidzone.com

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