Two important documentaries are out this month: “Speak Up,” on Cartoon Network, and the documentary “Bully” which will be released at the end of March. Both films play a very important role in sensitizing people to the pain endured by bullying victims and in helping those victims feel heard by others.
But it’s also true that watching such media can make parents – even those whose children haven’t been bullied – feel more anxiety over the topic. The association between bullying and suicide implied in the films can ramp you up to DefCon One! So today I thought we could try to reduce that anxiety. Let’s consider what actions parents can take, and some ways to reframe this issue that might put it in perspective.
1. All children WILL encounter casual cruelty at school or in other places. This cannot be avoided, nor should it be. It’s true that even one episode where a child is mocked and taunted cruelly can hurt enormously, but it won’t permanently damage your child. Dealing with mean people is one thing we all need to learn about. Mother Nature ensured that children have to deal with some meanness so that they can learn to deal with the more serious varieties that they will encounter later in life. Bottom line: Accept that you cannot protect your children 100% from meanness, and that even if you could, it wouldn’t help them in the long run. It hurts, yes, and that is no fun.
2. It graduates to a bullying episode when the attacks are orchestrated, repeated, intentional, and caused by a more powerful child. Bullying is a form of abuse. Children need to be helped and they need to feel that they have people who care about them and value them. There are steps you can take with the school, and make sure your child has warm and affectionate support at home. Remind him or her of their strengths, skills, friendships, and family. Download free steps to take (see below).
3. Remember that resolving the issue is job #1 – whether it’s bullying or just a one-time cruel incident. Don’t get into an argument with the school about whether or not it qualifies as truly “bullying.” The label’s not what’s most important – it’s the resolution that’s key! School administrators are people too. Work cooperatively with them.
4. Kids today know that claiming to be “bullied” is one way to avoid getting in trouble. It’s ok to find out that it really was a fight or quarrel. That is normal.
5. Don’t forget the online world. In our research we found that by high school, it’s very unlikely that any bullying incident is only occurring at school. You’ll help more by talking about that too.
We have LOTS of free information at www.marccenter.org in English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Haitian Creole.