“Kids will be kids” is no longer an acceptable excuse for bullying in elementary schools.
In a recent study at University of Washington, Seattle, 3530 elementary students were surveyed and placed them into distinct groups: bullies, victims, bully-victims, and bystanders. 22% of the children surveyed said that they had been involved in bullying, as bullies, victims, or both. Children who reported a feeling of “not belonging” at school were significantly more at risk for being either a bully or a victim. All children who were involved in bullying reported feeling unsafe at school. Those who were bystanders had a much greater sense of well being at school.
A striking result of the study is the greater likelihood of students involved in bullying to show symptoms of depression and psychological distress than those who are bystanders. According to the authors of the study, published in the journal Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, “The prevalence of frequent bullying among elementary school children is substantial. Associations between bullying involvement and school problems indicate this is a serious issue for elementary schools”.
Parents need to take a strong stand with their children and with school professionals that bullying is not acceptable under any circumstances. Bullies will often stop harassing children if they believe that their victim’s parent can make life difficult for them. This I know first hand.
In fifth grade, a child decided to harass my son about his friendship with a girl. This included teasing at school and writing obscene notes supposedly from the girl to my son. When I enlisted the help of the teacher and principal to stop the harassment at school, the bully began a campaign of obscene phone calls to our home. It seemed to delight the boy that I would answer the phone, hand it to my son, and then he would continue his harassment. He thought that my son would be too embarrassed to tell me what it was about. He was wrong.
The next time he called, I said “Danny, I know this is you. I know where you live. I know your number. I will call your parents. Then I will call the school AGAIN and tell them that you are still bothering us.” There was a stunned silence, and a quick hang up. We never had a problem with him again. In fact, he became friendly with my son.
I wish they were all that simple. In eighth grade, my boy and a friend of his encountered probably the most difficult bully to combat – I call this type the invisi-bully. This boy was one smooth operator. At first, it was difficult to convince teachers and school administrators that he was causing trouble. He began a smear campaign against my son and his best friend. He spread rumors that they were homosexual. A bright student from an affluent family, he paid students to threaten my son’s friend, and provoke him into fighting in the hope that he would be suspended or expelled.
School officials suggested that we meet privately with his family. When the other victim’s mother and I did, we encountered polite, pleasant people who clearly believed that our sons deserved this treatment. After all, my son’s friend was a special ed student, and my son had the nerve to stand up to the bully verbally. They clearly felt we were inferior. They politely said that if we pursued it with the school district, there would be legal consequences – and did we really have the money for that? Through the whole meeting, the boy stood behind them, smiling politely – and running the show.
I concluded this was no ordinary bully. This was Eddie Haskell’s evil twin.
Remember Eddie from the old “Leave it to Beaver” show? Nicey nice to the grown ups and very smooth at getting other people into trouble? Turns out that this family had already threatened to sue the school district over disciplinary action that was taken when the boy cheated on a test. He learned the art of bullying at home.
My response was to calmly and quietly tell these perfect people that if they sued me, the obscene e mails their son had sent could be evidence in a counter suit. At that point, the boy generously offered to cease and desist. That was good enough for me, and oh, they were so proud of him!
We all breathed a sigh of relief when the “invisibully” changed schools – and again was disciplined for cheating in the new school.
It’s important to be calm and strong when your children are victims of bullying. Working toward solutions with the school and when possible, with the bully and their parents can have a positive outcome for all. Many schools are involving children in anti bullying peer programs. Caring, knowledgeable, involved adults who strongly support children are crucial to ending bullying and school violence.
See also:Preventing Bullying in our Parenting Blog