Ours is a world full of mean people saying mean things. So when our children act badly, why should it surprise us? I’ve started this article many times and each time I start, I stop because I get overwhelmed with the task of fitting all there is to say on this subject into a 600-word post. Then this incident at Butler High School made the news and yesterday a friend forwarded this video (view in full at bottom of this post). That’s when I started writing again because frankly, it needs to be said. Bullying is so rampant in our culture that keeping it out of our schools seems to be an impossible task, but as parents there are steps we can take to protect our children.
Step #1: Know What Constitutes Bullying
October is National Anti-Bullying Awareness Month and if you’ve ever spent time reading some of the comments left on local news sites or Facebook pages, you may feel you know all too well how DESPERATELY our country needs to pay attention to this issue. But let’s be clear about what the issue is first. The recent Butler High incident doesn’t appear to be a case of bullying so much as an outright attack. There is currently no evidence the girl who was beat up even knew her attackers. The anchor in the video at the bottom of this article was responding to a VERY RUDE and cowardly viewer but not a bully. Bullying is not just someone saying something mean (although the more our children observe casual meanness the more likely they are to accept bullying behavior). Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior that is repeated and involves a real or perceived power imbalance.
Bullying can come in many forms (physical threats or violence, teasing, spreading rumors or isolation on purpose) and with the proliferation of computers and smart phones in our lives these acts no longer have to be done in person. In a 2011 survey, research found that 16% of high school students had experienced some type of cyberbullying and that cyberbullying is often accompanied by bullying in person.
Step #2 – Know That Bullying is NOT OK
There are certain things in life we cannot protect our children from no matter how much we wish otherwise. As sure as they learn to walk, they will fall and skin their knee. Eventually, they will experience a crush that is unrequited and it will break their heart (and yours). These are life experiences that hurt at the time but also help our children to grow and develop.
One experience that isn’t part of that list – bullying. Your child does not need to “get over it” and “toughen up” if they are being bullied. They do need to speak up and tell an adult, but they won’t do that unless they believe they will be supported when they do. Make sure the children in your life know you will listen to their fears and do something about it when they come to you.
Step #3 – Talk About It Before They Do
Have an age-appropriate discussion about bullying with your child now. Don’t wait until the situation occurs to discuss bullying. Talk with them often about the importance of respecting other people, treating everyone with kindness, and standing up for others that they may see being bullied. The importance of the adults in your home modeling this behavior cannot be overstressed. Children learn behavior from those around them. If you show compassion for those who are different or perceived as weak by our society, they will too.
Step #4 – Watch for the Signs
Children who are experiencing bullying are often embarrassed or fear retaliation and are therefore reluctant to speak up. Knowing the signs to watch for can help you in identifying whether or not your child or someone you know may be experiencing bullying. The government website www.stopbullying.gov is full of useful resources about this subject and is a great place to start. Keep in mind you should be watching for warning signs not only that your child might be bullied but that your child might be a bully.
Step #5 – Know What To Do
ANONYMOUS BULLYING HOTLINES
Madison County Schools
Hotline : 256-713-0257
Madison City Schools
Text to Protect: 256-604-2345
Safe Schools Tip Line: 256-464-6575
Huntsville City Schools
Huntsville High School: 256-536-4915