The return to school is a time filled with both excitement and reluctance for most children. Highly-publicized incidents of school violence have heightened awareness of the need to deal with the complex problem.
Bullying is not just child's play, but a terrifying experience many school children face every day. I am sure that we all can remember being bullied in some instance when we were in school - whether it was the elementary kid physically bullying classmates or the junior high sexual harasser.
It can be as direct as teasing, hitting or threatening, or indirect as in starting rumors, excluding the 'target' from social/school events or manipulation. In the past decade, bullying has become more prevalent and lethal than it was in the past two decades.
Bullying can no longer be explained away, as some adults are inclined to do, as a normal part of growing up. Statements like, "I remember doing that - what's the harm?" can no longer be accepted. Bullying has only harmful, not beneficial, effects for the target, the perpetrator and even the bystander. Bullying exacts a terrible toll on children, and the scars can last a lifetime.
Students who are the targets of repeated bullying can, and often do, experience fear and stress. They may be afraid to go to school or even ride the bus. They often make up excuses for their true feelings so they won't be ridiculed by their parents. They may show physical symptoms of illness and have a very difficult time concentrating on schoolwork.
The bully's behavior, if allowed to continue, can escalate into even more serious actions. Boys identified as bullies in grades six to nine often have one criminal conviction by age 24. Research also shows that bullies often grow up to perpetuate family violence.
Bystanders can also be deeply affected. They may feel angry and helpless because they don't know what to do. They may worry about becoming a target themselves. And they may also feel guilty for not taking any action.
It's important for parents to be acquainted with their child's school, and have knowledge of the school's policies and practices. There is considerable evidence that children learn better when their parents are involved with their school in some manner.What parents can do
- Talk with your children and show interest in his/her school life.
- Ask questions of teachers and administrators.
- Ask to be notified should your child become involved in perceived bullying activities.
- Report any incidents that do occur and keep records of the incidents.
- Offer assistance to the school by volunteering your time.
- Teach your child to be assertive without being aggressive - bullies are less likely to pick on children who won't back down easily - but avoid physical confrontation.
- Keep the lines of communication open so the child will be more likely to confide with you.
- Teach your child to be compassionate towards others. Help him/her understand that teasing another child is a form of bullying, and so is ignoring or snubbing a classmate who is different.
Take bullying seriously. When a first grader taunts a classmate, parents may be inclined to think, "That's just the way kids are." The values you teach at this age will affect how your child will treat others as they grow older.