Shoving in the lunch line. Teasing in gym class. Sending rude text messages. Name calling. Getting punched on the bus ride home. What do these acts have in common? They are all common examples of bullying.
Back in 2008, former Pennsylvania Governor Rendell signed the state bullying law. It defined bullying as an intentional electronic, written verbal or physical act directed at another student in a school setting that was severe, persistent or pervasive, and had the effect of substantially interfering with education, creating a threatening environment or disrupting the orderly operation of the school. School setting was defined broadly to include not just the school grounds, but school buses, designated bus stops, and any school-sponsored and supervised activity.
Today every Pennsylvania school is required to have an anti-bullying policy incorporated into their Code of Student Conduct. The policy must identify disciplinary actions for bullying and designate a school staff person to receive complaints of bullying. In addition, the policy must be available on the school’s website. While these policies are helpful in managing the bullying situations that can occur, how would you even know if your child was being bullied?
Given that many tweens and teens don’t share everything that happens at school with their parents, what are the warning signs that you should look for if you suspect your child is being bullied? According to the Mayoclinic, many children choose to remain quiet about being bullied out of fear, shame or embarrassment. Some red flags that could indicate bullying include:
- Damaged or missing clothing or other personal belongings
- Unexplained bruises or other injuries
- Few friends or close contacts
- Reluctance to go to school or ride the school bus
- Poor school performance
- Headaches, stomachaches or other physical complaints
- Trouble sleeping or eating
If you think your child is being bullied, here are some tips for handling the situation:
Encourage your child to share her concerns. Remain calm and listen in a loving manner. Express understanding and concern. Remind your child that she isn’t to blame for being bullied and make sure your child knows that you’re on her side.
Learn as much as you can about the situation. Ask your child to describe how and when the bullying occurs and who is involved. Ask if other children or adults have witnessed any bullying incidents.
Teach your child how to respond to the bullying. Don’t promote retaliation or fighting back against a bully. Instead, encourage your child to maintain his composure. Suggest sticking with a friend while on the bus, in the cafeteria or wherever the bullying seems to happen. Remind your child that he can ask teachers or other school officials for help.
Contact school officials. Talk to your child’s teacher, the school counselor and the school principal. If your child has been physically attacked or otherwise threatened with harm, talk to school officials immediately to determine if the police should be involved.
Follow up. Keep in contact with school officials. If the bullying seems to continue, be persistent.
Marcy Bergin, mother of four, from West Chester, learned firsthand about bullying in school when her daughter was in sixth grade. It all started with another girl whowas extremely controlling and was always saying negative things about her daughter. “This other girl started saying bad things about my daughter and encouraging other members of the group to ostracize her. Unfortunately it worked,” says Bergin. It wasn’t easy for Bergin to decide how to handle it since her daughter was afraid that her friends would be upset with her for saying something. “In the end, my daughter realized that she could not let this girl get away with this and agreed to talk to the teacher. The teacher handled it expertly – taking a walk with my daughter in the hallway, speaking to the other girl, and getting the group back together,” says Bergin.
For Lori McKiernan, a Malvern mother of four, sixth grade was a tough year for her daughter too. It started when her daughter was bullied via text messages from other classmates. McKiernan took action and got the school guidance counselor and the principal involved. “The bullying stopped after that but my daughter learned to stay clear of her bullies from then on,” says McKiernan.
In the end, parents must remember that early intervention on bullying can help prevent lasting problems — such as depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. Don’t wait it out and leave your child to handle it alone. When it comes to bullying, your child needs your support early on.
Has your child ever been bullied? How did you handle it? Feel free to post your comments below.