What Parents Need to Know About Bullying

Family Law - October 14, 2019
Father talking to his son about bullying

A parent’s guide to bullying

The best way to stop our children from doing something wrong is to teach them what it is and help them understand why it is wrong. It is also important to lead by example. The concept of bullying has changed drastically over the last 50 years. Surviving a bully used to be a rite of passage. Today, bullying is unconscionable and, in most school districts, an unlawful act.

I remember my parents telling me that my bully (and yes, I still remember his name) picked on me because he was threatened by me. They suggested that I try to make friends with him or stand up to him because it was believed that bullies never fought back. For the record, neither approach worked. He and I did not become friends and fighting back just exacerbated the problem.

Outside of school, children would say things like, “Hubba Hubba Hubba, ding ding ding, pitcher’s got an arm like a washing machine,” or we would have contests insulting one another.  We taunted and teased each other. We knocked each other down and then got ourselves up. For the most part, it was in good fun, but on occasion, someone would cross the line and feelings would get hurt. It was all part of growing up.  This is not the case today. Today, most of these activities would be classified as bullying.

What is bullying?

The United States government defines bullying as unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance.

Bullying exists beyond school age and can be verbal, social, or physical. The intention behind the action is not as important as the perception by the victim of the action. If your son or daughter brings home a note from school accusing them of bullying someone (e.g., name-calling, pushing, not allowing someone to sit at the lunch table), don’t focus on why your child did it or what they meant by it. First, ask them about their behavior, then focus on how the other child felt because, in the context of bullying, this is what matters.

I am a father with two high school-aged children. Both have been the victims of bullying and have bullied others – whether it was their intention or not. Recently, one of my children had a “tough love” talk with a friend who was creating problems with their group of friends. Was this talk friendly or bullying? It depends on who you ask. My child thought that he was helping his friend. If he could just set the friend straight, then everything could get back to how it should be. The other child’s parents did not agree. Their child’s feelings were hurt, and the child felt like an outsider. Like in baseball where the tie goes to the runner, in cases of alleged bullying, it is the perception of the victim that matters.

Talk to your children about the effects of bullying

So what do we do? First, we may not be 100% right as bullying can be subjective. Second, we must accept the possibility of it happening and have a plan for how to deal with it. In my opinion, the best way to deal with bullying issues is to talk about them with your children. Help them recognize the impact of their actions on others and put themselves in the other person’s shoes. The more we talk and educate ourselves and our children about what is happening in their lives, the better we will be able to address these and other issues that will come up.

What resources are available?

Everyone has that friend who knows someone who went through a similar situation involving bullying as described above. As a lawyer, if I had a dollar for every time that someone challenged my advice, I would have been able to retire years ago. But rather than taking advice from someone whose background and knowledge may be more limited than you think, I like to use information from trusted sources. These sources should be able to give us the information we need to understand the situation accurately. If you can call a professional, great, please do. If you do not have the time or access to one, then I recommend using the internet. Find the best sites out there that will educate you because knowledge is the real power. We cannot stop bullying unless we know what it is.

There are lots of ways to look things up online. You can enter a search and see what pops up; you can go to YouTube and watch videos. There are groups on Facebook and other social media sites. I suggest that you look at the site www.stopbullying.gov. This is a great source for you to use to understand bullying and the laws about it. It is a free, official website of the United States government.

There are lots of other sources online; but since www.stopbullying.gov is provided by the government and has access to all the laws and rules in each state, this is a great place to start. The best part about this website is that it is easy to use, and everything is explained in simple, easy-to-understand language. There are exercises, examples, and videos available. It explains things in ways that both adults and children can understand, which helps pave the way for communication between them.

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