Monday, November 14, 2011

How do we stop a bully?

I recently had a lengthy Facebook discussion with a friend of mine from middle and high school regarding bullying.  Her son was being bullied on the bus, and the situation had reached the point  where he no longer wanted to go to school.
This scenario seems to be replaying itself across the nation as the school year progresses and our students begin to crack under the burden.  We’ve all seen the stories of students, tormented so extremely by their peers  that they feel they have no other choice but to take their own lives, and parents and schools are left asking the same question:  “What can we do?”.
A study released this month by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) attempts to address some of these issues.  Though the study, Crossing the Line:  Sexual Harassment at School, admittedly focuses primarily on sexual harassment in grades 7-12, it highlights some valid points that apply to bullying in general.
  • Forty-four percent of students said the reason why they had harassed another student was because they didn’t think it was a big deal.  Bullying and harassment of any kind should be a big deal. 
  • Fifty percent of all students didn’t do anything about being harassed.  They didn’t speak to a parent, a teacher, a friend, or the police.  Most bullying occurs in the seedy underground of the American public school—in the hallways during class changes, in the gym locker room, in the bathrooms, on the bus, or at the bus stop.  The places out of reach of or only loosely monitored by teachers and administrators.
  • Thirty-six percent of girls and 24% of boys reported some form of cyber-harassment via text message, e-mail, Facebook, or other electronic means.
  Ladies and gentlemen, we have to do better.  All of us.  Parents, teachers, and administrators.  This is affecting our children’s education.  After being sexually harassed, students reported that they didn’t want to go to school, they had difficulty sleeping, they had actually stayed home from school, and, in some cases, been forced to change schools.
                Many students throughout the study reported that they felt their teachers didn’t care or wouldn’t do anything if they brought up the issue.  We need to know the school’s and school district’s policies on bullying/harassment and be able to speak to a student intelligently about what he/she needs to do if a student does report bullying to us.  Giving a student who has been harassed or bullied a step-by-step approach to taking control of the situation is a way to empower your student. 
           All complaints of sexual harassment/bullying need to be taken seriously by the administration.  There have been too many instances lately where a student has committed suicide, only for us to later discover that the school was perfectly aware of the bullying and not enough was done to stop it.  If a student is involved in a bullying or sexual harassment complaint, parents need to know immediately.
Finally, parents have the unique difficulty of striking the delicate balance between privacy and a lack thereof.  While middle and high-schoolers expect a certain degree of privacy, there is nothing wrong with a parent checking their child’s cell phone, Facebook account, or email occasionally.  Maybe that doesn’t make me popular, but, in this day, it could mean the difference between your child living and dying.  Experts have told parents for years that we should keep our family computers out of the kid’s bedrooms and in the living rooms.  There’s a good reason for that. 
If you want to read the full study Crossing the Line:  Sexual Harassment at School by Catherine Hill and Holly Kearl, you can read it here:

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