Bullying: Our Response

By Sharon M. Smith

When I was in middle school, I remember occasionally hearing murmurings of a possible fight to occur after school behind the such and so building, and then all the kids would rush out to witness the sight. The situation is still the same, albeit now kids are video taping it from their phones and posting it on YouTube. It is sick to think other kids are enjoying such exhibits of


In his book, “Bully Free Classroom,” Alan Beane says, “Bullying is a consistent pattern of disrespect for others, accepted and even created by the environment. This might explain the popularity of TV shows in which children watch people falling down, getting hit by baseballs, or bitten by dogs and the laughter of others convinces [bullies] these things are funny.” We do have to come to terms to the reality that bullying is real and alive and could happen with anyone of our children on any school campus (in some form). As the child grows older, the bullying stories get more violent.

Glenn Stutzky, a school violence specialist with the School of Social Work at Michigan State University, describes a bully: “An individual who seeks to control, dominate and terrorize the life of another.”

He goes on to say, “The essence of bullying is not in the actions of the bully but in their intentions. Do they intend to bring harm? Is their intention to control?” Normal peer conflict is “when two students of equal status and power get into an argument or a fight, but it’s more accidental, and not serious.”

It’s never easy to know how to respond as a parent when approached with news that your child has been bullying another. Here are some suggestions.

  • Thank the parent or teacher for letting you know of the problem - don’t be defensive or make excuses. Find out as much as you can about the problem.
  • Talk to your child and make it clear to them that you will not tolerate bullying.
  • Insist that the child apologize in a letter or sincerely in a verbal manner with a witness. To have them apologize shows them how to take responsibility, and takes steps to repair hurt feelings.
  • Administer an effective, nonviolent consequence. Stutzky suggests that the school needs to deal with bullies with a “pro-social discipline approach” using consequences that teach, including the use of positive acts that need to be accomplished by the bully in their discipline.
  • Forbid violent TV/computer/video games.
  • As a parent, examine your actions. Do you yell, have lack of control, handle losing well, or are you always angry?
  • If necessary, seek counseling.

Or if your child is being bullied, how should you respond?

  • Try not to overreact, but yet try not to under react as well, says Stutzky. Determine if it is “normal peer conflict” or in fact “bullying.”
  • Don’t blame your child nor quiz why they didn’t respond this way or that.
  • Talk to your child in a safe and comfortable environment. Also find out all the important information about the incident and if there were any witnesses.
  • Brainstorm with your child on strategies on how to respond to another similar situation.
  • Go to the teacher or the parent, not the bully. Stutzky also adds that it is “important to deal with the situation at the closest level that it’s occurring.” So if the incident happened at school during school time, then the parents should go to the teacher. “If, however, it is not resolved,” then “pursue meeting with the principal, superintendent, school board - as high as [you] need to go to get the bullying to cease.” If the incident occurs after school and off-campus, then go to the bully’s parents.

Since it is usually other kids, opposed to teachers or parents, who witness the peer harassment, kids are encouraged to speak up for their peers and tell their teacher of the incident, otherwise they are communicating that they support such behaviors among their friends.
The peer culture is a powerful influence on student conduct and character,” says Thomas Lickona, Ph.D., a developmental psychologist and professor of education at the State University of New York at Cortland.

“When teachers and schools create a strong sense of community, children learn morality by living it. And school becomes what it clearly must be: a place where all children feel welcomed and safe.”