Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived power imbalance.
This month, we are focussing on issues in the school system (and this means any school system: homeschooling, charters, etc are not exempt) that are prevalent, insidious and hard for us to talk about with our kids.
Bullying has been around since Cain and Abel, but if Eve had given them smart phones I think they could have avoided going out into the field altogether and Cain could have ruined his brother from the comfort of his couch.
What this means for today’s kids is a perceived power imbalance (which is what sells technology in the first place) so magnified that the result, more times than we want to look at, is death. Death of an idea, death of self-worth, death of a child. Please stop right now and call, text, message, hug, or high-five a kid. It doesn’t have to be your kid. And you don’t need a reason. Every kid needs that little ping of positivity because – people listen up – we are fighting an undercover avalanche of insidious bullying.
And you count. I’ll wait while you send it….
According to my many teacher friends, schools are educating kids about proper web use and ethics. They know it’s hard for some kids to admit to being bullied, so it’s discussed regularly in the classroom. Some teachers have an app that can check a kid’s iPad at a moments notice to see if it’s being used appropriately. They have counselors, social workers, and technology staff and partner with police and programs for nonviolence and peace. The message they are sending out is: “Bullying is not right. Everyone deserves a safe place to be in school.”
But of course, there’s a flip side: how do you distinguish between bully behavior and normal, age-appropriate immaturity, or even teasing between two children who both think it’s funny? The “bully” label is easily triggered in students and parents alike and they expect dramatic reactive steps on the part of school staff, regardless of the circumstances. (Here’s my fun story on that.)
Usually a quick, real-time intervention by the teacher, having kids apologize or just a stern talking-to, resolves many incidents. Seasoned teachers definitely know the difference and they also know their students personalities.
But the teacher is not you, the parent. (Unless of course you are homeschooling like Eve was and we are praying for you. Get yourself a favorite aunt who will take your kid for ice cream and have this conversation.)
You, the parent, should also be using real-time intervention by talking to your kids about when they were bullied and also when they bullied someone else. The answers are perhaps not so important as the process of opening the discussion. We all have to find ways to get along on the planet and this is a good place to practice the conversation. Earn their honesty by trusting them to find solutions along with you. Suggest ways they can hand out those little pings of positivity, too.
- Technology is just a tool and you control the “off” button. No one can access you via technology unless you allow them to. Others can block you, too, if you lose their trust.
- Bullying can be physical, emotional, or verbal. Harassment or intimidation via technology is called cyberbullying. Look up your school policy on it and read it together.
- Make an action plan as a family. Consider and act out scenarios where you are the target, the witness, and the bully in turn. How do you feel? What can you say? What will you do?
- Restorative Circles will give you the dialogue you need, and here is the other side of that with examples.
- Find resources on stopbullying.gov.
- Find more resources from the national PTA here.
Sometimes a school counselor tries to help a child they are pretty sure has been bullied, but for some reason the child does not open up to them. The child gives all the right answers and states fully how to handle bullying. Years later when the child is an adult they finally open up. At that moment you think back at all the help they could have had and wonder why it was kept a secret for so long.
This is great. It is a very difficult call as a teacher between common teasing and bullying. However, we take both very seriously now. There was a time when I used to say, “Let it go. If you make a big deal of it, it will continue” but no more. Everything is looked at and discussed either as a group or with our school counselor. If you would have asked me 10 years ago if an elementary school needed a full time counselor I would have said no way. And now, I don’t know what we would do without ours. It is a different world out there, and a scary one in many ways.
I was bullied by someone as an adult. I was afraid of this person and realized with hindsight, that I had been bullied for several years. Not a fun experience!
Wonderful job on this topic Jolie.