In writing this article about “bullying,” I remembered—or thought I remembered—the title to a song, “Bully, Bully.” In checking it on Google, I discovered the song was “Woolly Bully,” just another song whose lyrics, though I enjoyed the song very much, I got it wrong! And while my singing the wrong lyrics to a song is most amusing to those who hear me, the topic of bullying is truly anything but.
While “picking” on someone and bullying has probably been around since the existence of people, BULLYING as a major problem and cause of concern has reached a peak during the last 15 years. On the website, Stop Bullying.gov, bullying is defined as “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.
“Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose. The power to bully, and the negative impact of being bullied, is multiplied exponentially by the ability provided by the Internet to reach multitudes of people in a swell swoop as well as the ability to take photographs surreptitiously to be spread in exactly the same way.”
I believe that the idea of power stimulates many people’s appetites, especially children who often have limited power in their lives. In learning how to bully through news reports and other media, even those who would not have otherwise engaged in bullying behaviors are activated to do so. What are parents to do?
The first step is prevention.
Preventing Your Child From Becoming A Bully.
Take a look at the behavior in your home. Does either parent use sarcasm, put-downs, or physical strength to subdue behaviors or do they permit older siblings to use these tactics with younger ones? These are modeling behaviors that your child might then use with children he or she perceives to be weak or vulnerable.
If the school and/or another parent contacts you to alert you to the fact that your child is engaged in bullying behaviors, the first thing to do is explore it with your child. (In general, if you are told something by an outsider about your child, never just assume it’s correct or true. Always reveal to the child what you’ve been told and ask for the child’s response to the accusation. Aside from hopefully gaining valuable insight, it shows the child that you have respect for them and value their version as much as the person who told you).
Sometimes, there is a legitimate explanation for whatever transpired. If there are questions, then meet with the school personnel and/or the other parent and child and discuss the incident with everybody present. This leads to the ability to question the incident in its entirety and get to the bottom of the story.
The worst thing to do is deny your child’s involvement. In one situation a man went to the home of a boy who had punched his son. When the “puncher’s” mother heard the man’s story, she immediately replied, “He didn’t do it,” and absolutely refused to give any credence to the incident. Further, she never even approached her son about it. What was the lesson? She never held him responsible for his actions and he could get away with negative behaviors.
If it turns out your child was truly involved in being a bully, discuss the incident(s) fully. Try to find out what led to the behaviors. (It is possible the child was feeling bullied him/herself or other feelings were emerging that were difficult to deal with so they were expressed in this hurtful and ineffectual way. If this is the case, your child’s feelings should be explored and dealt with. ) Ask the child if they could think of a better way to have handled the situation and, if they can’t, suggest one or more yourself. Try to get your child to understand and care about the way the other person felt. Let your child know in no uncertain terms that you find bullying behaviors unacceptable, and, if necessary, impose punishments. As always, punishments should be meaningful and related to the incident(s).
If it seems there are some deeper issues involved, then consider some counseling. In a situation like this, counseling within a group would probably be most effective, as it leads to understanding of one’s own behaviors, the impact of those behaviors on others, and, hopefully, empathy.
Preventing Your Child From Being Bullied.
Parents should bring up the subject of bullying in casual discussions. Use an article or TV show about bullying as a “jumping off point,” placing it outside of the context of your own children. You might say something like, “Wow, this seems to be becoming such a problem. I know when I was in school some kids got picked on by other kids; I wonder if that ever happens in your school.” People, especially children, are more likely to talk about something if it’s not directly related to them. You can present a situation and describe what it is a child could do if s/he were being bullied. This could be something like, “Well, I would hope if a child were being made uncomfortable or scared by some kid or kids, s/he would feel comfortable enough to tell his/her parents and, if it happens in school, and to let the teacher or guidance counselor know as well. It really needs to be stopped as soon as possible and that boy/girl needs to be protected.” In this day and age, most parents find the time to provide information to their children about being wary in regard to inappropriate touch. This is just as important.
When You Discover Your Child Is Being Bullied:
First of all . . . LISTEN!!!I will never forget my experience a few years ago with a high school student. During the greater part of an evaluation, he avoided eye contact, kept his head down, his answers were mumbled and his manner sullen. The final part of the evaluation is a Sentence Completion Test, in which I start a sentence and the student completes it. When it came to “I like school but . . .” he responded, “I don’t like school at all.”
I said, “That sounds terrible, what’s wrong with school? ” For the first time, after about probably two hours, he looked at me and said he had never wanted to go to this school and we went on to discuss where he wanted to go and why and then why he wasn’t going there. When the sentence began “My friends. . . ,” he said he didn’t have any and that, in fact, he dreaded the kids in the school and revealed he was being bullied. One of the particular areas he spoke about was that at lunch, wanting to sit quietly and be left alone, a group of boys would surround him and chastise him—it was truly torturous for him. He described this group as being made up of some boys who had traveled with him from his elementary school (where they had bullied him as well) and were now joined by more boys in the high school.
I immediately informed his guidance counselor who had no knowledge of these happenings. At what is termed the Final Meeting (in which the child study team meets with parents and school personnel), in which test results and other information is discussed, the learning consultant, the original guidance counselor, another guidance counselor, and I met with the mother and attempted, very sensitively, to alert the mother to the extreme unhappiness, even misery, her son was experiencing.
Mom looked at us as though we were hallucinating and with big smiles insisted that her son was fine in school and that these boys who surrounded him at lunchtime did so because they liked him so much and they just wanted his company. While we all implored her in ever increasing clarity to consider the fact that her son was suffering greatly, she just wouldn’t hear it. In order to live out her dream of his graduating from this school, she just was able to deny a very painful reality. Most likely, if your child claims s/he is being bullied, it is so. And, if it should be that it isn’t so, then it is equally important to understand why a child would claim such a situation exists.
Once the bullying is validated, find out what form the bullying takes? Is it physical, verbal, photographic? Is it taking place in school, bus, out-of-school, on the Internet? Does the child know who is behind it? If it is in anyway school related, in school, on the bus or walking home, contact the school immediately. Insist that officials meet with you to discuss what’s going on and persist in asking how they plan to deal with it.
If what you are told seems dismissive or inadequate, let the school know in no uncertain terms that you hold it responsible for your child’s emotional and physical well-being as related to school issues. Because most of the readers of this article have children in private school, there is recourse, of course, to withdraw the child and choose another school. However, it can be communicated to the school that it is still responsible for any repercussions that can be attributed to the negative experiences the child endured while a student at that particular school.
These repercussions can be police, legal and probably even Beth Din related. I am in no way suggesting extreme measures be taken without giving the school a solid chance to deal with the situation. I would suggest remembering, too, that the way you deal with the school, what you say and how you conduct yourself, is a modeling experience for your child in how to manage difficult situations. So, respectful, calm, well thought out interactions will be more likely to get you what you want, and will teach your child how to do the same.
The bottom line is: your child needs to feel believed, protected and supported throughout.
There is a tremendous amount of material related to “Bullying” on the Internet to answer, at least in part, any questions you may have.
By Nancy Silberman Zwiebach