It's been ten years, but I am still haunted by the memory. It was in Ottawa, Canada. I had just finished giving a keynote address on bullying to a large group of educators in Ottawa. A gentleman was quietly waiting by the stairs to speak with me. As I approached him, he silently handed me a picture of an adorable eleven-year old boy. With tears in his eyes, the man explained that the photo was his son who had hung himself because he was bullied. He said he had to talk to me. He'd listened to my speech and knew that if people had only listened to what I said about bullying, his son would be alive today. He asked me to please keep warning parents of the consequence, and then he hugged me quietly walked away.
I've carried that child's photo in my purse and shared it with hundreds of parents and educators everywhere I speak. It's my reminder that adults need to take bullying far more seriously, tune into our children closer, and step in so a child does not have deal with cold-blooded cruel attacks alone. It has got to stop and it is not.
Studies find that 160,000 children skip school every day because they fear being attacked or intimidated by other students. And this cruel behavior is only increasing with age. A recent study prepared for the American Psychological Association showed that 80 percent of middle school students admitted to bullying behavior in the prior 30 days. Research shows bullying is escalating and bullies are more likely to be aggressive and could carry a weapon.
There is also another danger as well. The United States Secret Service studied over 30 school shootings. Could they determine a profile of a school shooter? The answer was no, but they did find one commonality: each shooter had been bullied intensely by peers, and no adult ever intervened. Bullied children can become bullies.
So what do you do if your child is repeatedly bullied and your previous efforts fail and worse yet the bullying intensifies? You may have done everything you can to try and help, but the bullying does not stop. Do know that is sadly predictable. Bullying is almost always a repeated behavior. That means once a child is targeted she usually continues to be targeted. If this is your child, you must intervene. A bullied child cannot solve this problem on her own.
Here are nine things to do if your previous efforts fail and bullying intensifies.
1. Be ready to advocate. If there's ever the possibility your child could be injured--step in. Don't assume this is a "phase" that will go away by itself. If this behavior continues your child needs help and cannot handle this on his or her own.
2. Notify authorities and gather support. Tell those directly responsible for your child (his teacher, coach, pediatrician, day-care worker). A multidisciplinary approach in which all adults in your child's life are involved to find a solution is best. Talk to the school nurse: victims often go to the nurse's office complaining of physical complains as an escape.
3. Mobilize support. Get other parents on board with you. If your child's school is not taking this seriously, go to the superintendent and to the board of education. Don't stop. Keep going up the ladder and takes responsibility. And do not let anyone tell you that bullying can't be prevented. Hogwash! Check out Dan Olweus' research in Norway. Over 650 schools were able to reduce bullying by over 50 percent in three years, which is significant. Worksheets and assemblies don't stop bullying. But systemic change in the school culture and getting everyone on board does.
4. Keep records. You may need proof so keep evidence such as torn clothing, threatening emails, witnesses' names, phone numbers and details.
5.Demand confidentiality. You don't want retaliation. So limit number you tell wherever possible.
6. Expect protection. Get specifics: "What will you do to ensure my child's safety?" If you do not get support go up a level: call the principal, superintendent, school board or the police.
7. No face-to-face contact. Distance your child from the bully: class, lunch, bus, team. Ideally the bully should not come within a certain number of feet of your child. Don't allow a child who is bullied to be put in a "conflict resolution" situation to "air out differences" with a bully. This is not the bullied child's problem nor is it a "conflict." This is cold-blooded, one-way intentional cruelty on the part of the bully.
8. Be prepared for resistance. Don't be surprised if you are told to "toughen your kid up." And don't be shocked if the bully's parent is a bully herself. In a national PTA survey found only one fourth of parents support contacting other parents to deal with bullying. A bully's parent usually denies their kid is guilty and may blame your child as well as feel you are criticizing her parenting. You may need to get an objective outsider like a principal or day care supervisor to mediate. A diplomatic: "I'm concerned about the relationship between our kids" may be your best opener. And if you get a call accusing your kid, listen. He just may be less innocent than you think.
9. Remain vigilant. You may need to change your child's classes, team, or in some cases even schools to protect your kid. You may also need to go to the police and even hire an attorney. Do whatever you must, but advocate for your child's safety.
Repeated bullying causes severe emotional harm and erode your child's fragile self-esteem and cause high levels of emotional distress and loneliness as well as anxiety and depression. If you see these changes happening in your child then do not wait.. Think of the picture of that precious little boy. His father would urge your to call for help.
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