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Standing up against bullying among our children

By Sharon M. Smith

It’s found on the playground, in the hallways, and sometimes in the classroom, but usually when the teacher is looking away. Bullying is a serious problem in the schools and, Brad Tassell adds in his book “Don’t Feed the Bully,” that “everybody is bullied in his or her life.” It is quite a sobering comment revealing that the problem has weaved itself throughout the generations.

When I first started out researching the topic of bullying, I was absolutely surprised as to how easy it was to find information and how eager parents were to know more. I was also astounded to discover how seriously school campuses are taking this issue - so much so that schools are setting up programs to address and express a “bully-free” environment.

Bev Candage, principal at Bird Rock Elementary, comments that on their campus bullying is a, “consistent, ongoing topic of discussion in our classrooms, and we also weave it into Character Counts lessons throughout the year.” The campus also has Peace Patrol members who are trained to resolve conflicts peacefully, and there are recess and lunch supervisors to monitor that students are treated respectfully.

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Kelly McIntyre, an eighth-grade counselor at Aliamunu Middle School in Oahu, Hawaii, has launched a bully prevention program this year at her school. She has set up extensive training for all the eighth grade teachers using the book, “The Bully, The Bullied and Beyond” by Esther Williams. The program was launched when the author of the book came out to the island to train all the teachers and staff on the material.

Interestingly enough, many parents don’t even realize their own children are getting harassed, and sometimes, kids do not even realize that they are getting bullied.

The San Diego District’s material on the subject simply states that a bully is “anyone who bothers other people to hurt [another’s] feelings.” Bullying can take many forms, from teasing, to tripping, to fist fighting. And yes, girls get bullied too.

McIntyre explains that, from a girl’s standpoint, bullying is referred to as “Relational Aggression” and it takes on many different forms. “It can be someone talking behind their back, picking on or teasing them, excluding them from their group, text messaging or instant messaging about them, three-way calling, or verbally insulting them.”

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She continues, boys continue to use the more physical, threatening type of bullying. Who falls victim to such bullying? Even though Williams lists in her book the characteristics of victims of bullies, after talking to scores of parents and listening to their examples, I have to conclude that bully victims could be any one of our kids.

Who are these bullies anyway? According to Beane, many bullies are angry all or most of the time, jealous of other people’s success, and have been bullied by someone else.

Williams adds that bullies could also be socially isolated, have chaos in their family, have parents who shout at them or witness frequent parental conflict, have inconsistent parenting practices, or have a lack of monitoring in the home.

Beane concludes that, “Bullies can be distracting, annoying, frustrating and even scary at times. But they need as much help and understanding and compassion as you can give them.”

So as a parent, what can we do? We can rally together to support and encourage our schools’ efforts to create a bully-free environment.

Operation Respect describes how to set up a healthy school setting on their Web site: Kids need to have ridicule-free homes that can complement and support this experience at school. As parents, we have a critical role to play in reinforcing these “lessons of the heart” at home.

Operation Respect offers suggestions on ways we can take action as parents: (1) make it clear that resorting to violence is not acceptable to you; (2) develop open, honest communication with your child; (3) teach by example; (4) take action when either children or adults reveal prejudice; and (5) openly acknowledge and accept others’ unique differences.

There is a child’s book titled, “Don’t Laugh at Me,” that has inspired chart-topping songs of the same name and also has permeated throughout schools and campuses across the United States with an unforgettable message of pride and acceptance. The song is sung in several genres from Peter, Paul and Mary to the current rap of Baby Jay (found on the Web site dontlaugh.org which also includes contemporary videos). The song begins, “I’m a little boy with glasses, the one they call a geek, A little girl who never smiles cuz I got braces on my teeth,” and the chorus resumes, “Don’t laugh at me; don’t call me names, Don’t get your pleasure from my pain, In God’s eyes we’re all the same.”

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As parents, let’s partner together to communicate acceptance among our children and each other, and maybe we can set in motion a bully-free society for the next generation.