There is no excuse for kids being bullied at school anymore. Bullying is such a hot button issue, and many schools have developed no-tolerance policies for the behavior. Bullying can come in the stereotypical physical variety, but it can also manifest as verbal abuse. That’s the type of bullying I endured in school. Verbal bullying by both “mean girls” and my 6th grade English teacher. My mom got nowhere when she called the school about it back then. There aren’t the same roadblocks now.
So what do you do when you find out your child is being bullied? You may get a phone call from the school (I’ve gotten one of those) or you may hear it from your child (I’ve done that, too) – but however you learn of it, your plan of action will follow pretty much the same outline.
Talk to Your Kid
It is so important to find out the whole story from your child. The first thing you need to do is ask him how he feels. Does he believe the horrible things kids have been saying about him? Is he sad? Mad? Feeling hopeless? It’s important to know how the bullying is affecting him so you’ll know how to proceed on an emotional level.
You need to ask him for the whole story – even (especially) if he did something wrong in the midst of it. If your kid did something to instigate, or if he fought back after the first punch was thrown, that’s something you need to know before you start talking to school officials – because you’ll find out one way or another. Let him know that him doing something wrong doesn’t mean it wasn’t also wrong for the other kids carrying out the bullying.
Above all, make sure your child knows that you care, and that bullying is not okay. Let them know you love them and support them, and you will do everything in your power to stop the abuse.
Talk to the Responsible Adult
For us, TJ’s bullies were all on his bus coming home from school. My immediate contact was his bus driver via the bus garage. If your child is being bullied at school, the responsible adult you talk to first may be a teacher, a cafeteria aide, or the recess monitor. Find out if the bullying was witnessed by an adult and what, if anything, was done to address the situation.
On my first call to the bus garage, it was clear that the bus driver didn’t think the situation was a big deal. For most kids, it probably wouldn’t have been. But when you have a child with Asperger Syndrome who takes everything people say literally, mean girls who tell him they’re going to have him arrested if he doesn’t do what they want – they need to be stopped.
My phone call stopped the harassment, because the bus driver took a stand and told the girls to knock it off. But if that hadn’t worked…
Work Your Way Up the Chain of Command
If the responsible adult isn’t being responsible, get in touch with their supervisor. If it’s a teacher, go to the principal. If the principal won’t listen, get in touch with the superintendent and/or the school board. You may find that you get more satsifaction from elected officials than someone with tenure – and the school board needs to be re-elected in order to keep their jobs. And if you still aren’t getting anywhere…
Tell the World
Bring out the big guns. I’m not talking about writing a blog post or tweeting…your only audience is going to be made up of the social media savvy crowd. You need to reach your whole community. If you can’t get the school board to take action somehow to stop the bullying, write a letter to your local paper. Call your local TV stations. Promise the school board members that you’ll return to the subject at election time if they can’t be bothered to ensure your child’s safety. Other parents (read: voters) will certainly take this sort of thing into account.
If it sounds like blackmail to you, it’s not; you’re not trying to get money or illegal favors from them. You are trying to get them to do their job. You are being a responsible citizen by letting the public know if your school district is not helping to protect its students. You are being a good parent by doing everything in your power to protect your child.
Heck, if you have an opportunity to take your story national, why not do it? Changing how your school deals with bullies may help more than your child; it could even save a child’s life.