As the fourth in our series of guest articles celebrating Back to School Week, Julie Hertzog, the director of PACER's National Bullying Prevention Center, gives some valuable advice on how to recognize and react to bullying in schools.
As director of PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center for the last six years, I’ve seen the critical difference education on this issue can make in the lives of students.
Simply finding our website and reading the comments from others who have been bullied allows students to see that they are not alone and that someone cares about what’s happening to them. This has saved at least one life that we know of – a girl changed her mind about suicide after discovering our website.
But letting kids know that they are not alone is just the beginning. Students, parents, educators, and communities all have a responsibility to address bullying in schools, online, and in communities, and our resources make it easy for them to do so.
October is National Bullying Prevention Month, a great time to get involved in bullying prevention efforts. So many students feel that the adults in their lives are failing to adequately address this issue. So what can you do?
Start using our websites
Last year, 1.4 million people in nearly 200 countries used the National Bullying Prevention Center’s web-based tools. These free, creative tools can really make a difference if you download them to use where you live.
• Find online resources for parents, teachers, and other adults at PACER.org/Bullying
• Check out the cool, edgy, interactive teen resources at PACERTeensAgainstBullying.org
• Make the most of fun, age-appropriate activities for elementary school at PACERKidsAgainstBullying.org
Attend the local Run, Walk, Roll Against Bullying event
Learn more about this Washington, D.C. event hosted by Advocates for Justice and Education, Inc. on Saturday, Oct. 6, from 7:30 a.m. to noon at Rock Creek Park.
Support the cause
Show students who have been bullied that someone cares by wearing orange – the official color of National Bullying Prevention Month – on Oct. 10, Unity Day.
Ellen DeGeneres wore orange on Unity Day and you can too. People all over the country hold fundraisers, stage special events, and give generously during October. We hope you will do the same. Go to PACER.org/Bullying for ideas on what you can do. Your contribution will help students across the country feel safer. It could even save someone’s life.
Make a plan
Creating an action plan is the first step to addressing bullying, whether you are an educator working with a student being bullied, a parent looking for ways to help your child, or a student who wants to take action. PACER’s student action plan is an opportunity for students – either on their own or with their parents and teachers – to develop a strategy so they can change what’s happening to them or someone else.
Talk to your child
Many times, a parent’s first involvement in bullying prevention begins at home when they are concerned that their child may be a target of bullying. Talking to your child about this subject in a helpful way is an important first step. A 2010 study reported that 64 percent of children who were bullied did not report it; only 36 percent reported bullying, so opening the lines of communication is critical.
Children can have many reasons for not telling their parents. They may fear an “overreaction,” be embarrassed or ashamed, feel responsible, or think it won’t do any good. They might simply find it hard to talk about anything, or think it’s not “macho” to tell. Some children may not realize that they are being bullied. You might need to ask some indirect questions, such as:
• How was gym class today?
• Who did you sit by at lunch?
• You seem to be feeling sick a lot and want to stay home. Please tell me about that.
• Are kids making fun of you?
• Are there a lot of cliques at school? What do you think about them?
When children choose to tell their parents about bullying, parents might respond in a manner that isn’t helpful. They might tell their child to stand up to the bully; tell their child to ignore and avoid the bully; or take matters into their own hands.
While these reactions all express genuine caring, concern, and good intentions, they are likely to be ineffective and can even have harmful consequences.
Instead, parents should be ready to:
Listen. It’s your child’s story; let him or her tell it. Your child may be in emotional pain about the way he or she is being treated and needs your help.
Believe. The knowledge that a child is being bullied can be emotionally painful. To be an effective advocate, parents need to react in a way that encourages their child to trust them.
Be supportive. Tell your child it is not his fault and that he does not deserve to be bullied. Parents should empower their child and avoid judgmental comments about their child or the child who bullies. Your child may already be feeling isolated, and hearing negative statements from parents may only further isolate him.
Be patient. Children may not be ready to open up right away. Talking about the bullying may be difficult, as they may fear retaliation from the bully or believe that even if they tell an adult, nothing will change. Your child might be feeling insecure, withdrawn, frightened, or ashamed.
Provide information. Parents should educate their child about bullying by providing information at a level the child can understand.
Explore options for intervention strategies. Parents can discuss with their child options they may have in dealing with bullying behavior.
If your child has been bullied, provide an encouraging response. Tell your child:
• You are not alone.
• It is not up to you to stop the bullying.
• Bullying happens to a lot of kids but that NEVER makes its right.
• No one deserves to be bullied. Everyone deserves respect.
• We all need to work together.
Make sure you keep a record of what is happening to your child. This record is useful when talking with school educators, law enforcement personnel, or other individuals who may need to assist parents in intervening against bullying. And don’t forget to see if your school has a policy on bullying and if your state has a law concerning the issue.
If your child is not being bullied, he or she can become part of the solution. Bystanders to bullying have power: More than half of bullying situations (57 percent) stop when a peer intervenes on behalf of the student being bullied.
For more detailed information on how parents and others can prevent bullying, please visit PACER.org/bullying. Remember, bullying can erode self-esteem, impact learning at school, cause anxiety and depression, and even lead to suicide. It’s up to us to prevent it. The end of bullying begins with you!
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