It’s a new school year and we have an opportunity to start fresh. We have a chance to create a year where children can go to school without the dread of another day of bullying abuse. What would it take to have a school year completely devoid of bullying? Is it even possible? I think it is. It’ll take some time because bullies and their parents have been allowed to get away with all types of bullying behaviors. Here’s an action plan to get the ball rolling:
It’s a team effort.
Parents and school administrators have to understand that they are in a partnership when it comes to producing responsible, contributing members of society. It’s not one or the other, it’s both. Parents need to do their part by teaching and role modeling behaviors that will support their children and society, and the school systems need to reinforce those behaviors with positive character development programs in the schools. It’s everyone's responsibility to take proactive steps that will produce a safe, positive atmosphere, and an environment conducive to learning.
Parents, you need to have several discussions with your children as school starts.
Explain to your children what bullying behavior is and that it is completely unacceptable. Make sure your child understands what types of behaviors are abusive – name calling, Internet harassment, texting harassment, physical confrontations, social exclusion, etc. Make it clear that you expect your child to rise above these types of behaviors. If your child has engaged in any of these behaviors in the past, explain consequences that will be applied if they do so again. Don’t fall into the trap of “My child would never...”
All children treat others inappropriately on occasion. They see it constantly on TV, movies, video games, etc. Help to inoculate your child by having a simple ‘premptive’ discussion.
Discuss what they should do if they are bullied or if they see someone else being bullied. At a minimum, they should report the situation to you, and you should in turn report them to the school. Don’t put your child in the "line of fire" by making them report these situations directly themselves, unless someone is being physically assaulted or ganged up on. In this case, they should go and get help, not jump in the middle of the altercation.
Point out the difference between “tattling” and "reporting” a bullying problem. Discuss the concept of a positive bystander. Explain that if they stand by and do nothing, they are taking an active part in the bullying. Do role-playing scenarios of what they can do if they see someone being bullied.
Discuss the steps your child should take if they are bullied/harassed. Simple things such as walking away with confidence, using verbal and physical boundaries to protect themselves without needing to touch the offending party. Certainly teach them that they should report any incident of harassment or bullying to you immediately. Don’t wait for the incidents to pile up. It is important to "nip it in the bud" right away. And again, your child should report it to you and you should report it to the school administrators.
School administrators, you need to take bullying and harassment of all types seriously. If you are really taking it seriously, then you’ll have the following already in place:
Every school should have an effective character development program in place. We have one in my martial arts school for our students. It’s not rocket science, just common sense. Explain the likely outcomes of this behavior vs. that behavior. Help them to understand that what they get out of life largely depends on what they put into it, and that goes for how they treat people as well.
Foster an atmosphere of mutual respect and dignity in the school by making sure the school staff treats each other and the students with courtesy and respect.
Develop a culture where it’s not only OK to "report" incidents, it is considered each member of the community’s responsibility to do so. Again, a discussion on the difference between "tattling" and "reporting" needs to be part of an active character development program.
When an incident of bullying is reported the first time, the school needs to have discussions with both parties – separately, of course, to determine the facts of the situation. Reiterate to both children what bullying behavior is, that it is 100 percent unacceptable and that it won’t be tolerated. Include in this discussion a talk about the seriousness of “crying wolf” – sometimes children make stuff up for attention or just to get others in trouble This is why it’s important to investigate the situation before assigning consequences.
When a second incident of confirmed bullying is reported, it’s time to bring the parents of the bully in and get them on board. Make sure they understand that yes, their child is indeed a bully, and it’s their responsibility to do something about it. Set up a plan to keep track of what’s being done to help the child and that the parents don’t drop the ball. It’s also important to be sure the parents don’t just harshly punish their child to "force" them to "behave." It’s probably this type of parenting that created the bully in the first place. This step is long term. It’s not just about a single meeting with the parents. The school should also have an "enhanced" character development program for repeat offenders to help them adjust their behaviors.
This is just a quick outline of course and each situation has to be handled differently. But we need to start from a place of “we can do something to stop bullying in our schools” and then move quickly on to “it’s our responsibility to stop bullying in our schools.” And, finally, then we just actually have to do it.