Putting a Stop to Bullying

Now that Governor Rick Snyder has signed an anti-bullying legislation into law, all Michigan school districts must put a policy into practice by June 6, 2012 that prohibits any kind of student harassment. The attention surrounding this very serious issue comes as reported incidences of bullying have increased alarmingly over the past few years.

It is important that parents and teachers realize signs of bullying aren’t always obvious. We normally think of bullying as a physical act or the posting of a derogatory message on the Internet, known as cyber-bullying. However, there are other types, such as exclusionary bullying. That’s when a group of friends decide not to include a certain friend in their plans — shunning and isolating the youngster. Gossip and teasing are other forms of bullying. Getting stuck with a nickname can be embarrassing and hurtful to a child, especially when everyone else thinks that name is cute or funny.

Parents should be aware of these subtle forms of bullying. There’s more to it than a kid coming home with a black eye. Watch closely for changes in your child’s behavior and have frank discussions with him or her about bullying. Talk to your child’s teachers and friends. Many times, a child suffering from harassment will tell a friend, and the friend will tell his or her parent. Make it a point to occasionally volunteer at your child’s school or attend activities. Teachers are also more accessible these days via email, so stay in contact with them to gain insight on classroom behavior.

Kids witness forms of bullying every day, even amongst adults. Making fun of the underdog can be considered bullying and is often present in political campaigns where adults say negative things about each other. Kids also see constant examples of the strong, clever guy beating up his opponent in video games, movies and television programs. Parents need to help children make the distinction between these images and real-life bullying. You can be honest with them and admit that we all get angry at times and may want to hurt other people’s feelings in retaliation. But let them know there are positive ways to resolve conflicts and handle emotions.

Kids and adults should recognize that bullying can happen innocently. It isn’t always the “bad” kids who are the bullies. Sometimes children don’t realize they are bullying another child. I’m reminded of the story of a Michigan girl who was given a nickname by a group of popular kids after she tripped in the school cafeteria and spilled a tray of food on herself and the other students. The nickname spread throughout the school and she was constantly harassed. While the other kids thought it was funny, the bullying had a devastating impact on the girl. She stopped going to lunch and hid out in classrooms instead. Finally, she became so depressed that she considered suicide. When the other kids heard about it, they were upset and devastated, because they actually liked the girl and had no idea how much she was negatively impacted by the nickname.

Many local school districts, private organizations and community agencies already have or will be developing programs to address bullying. Sign your children up for workshops, so they learn what to do if they are bullied and how to prevent becoming bullies.