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With the beginning of the school year just around the corner - literally - many of our children are probably somewhat apprehensive about the new school year and the challenges it may bring, from new teachers, to new classmates, to an increased and more difficult workload. Naturally, the children aren't the only ones with these worries; we parents are concerned as well (and no, I'm not just referring to our having to pitch in with extra homework).
Perhaps one of the biggest fears we have is that, G-d forbid, someone would try to bully one of our kids.
Here is the unvarnished, harsh truth:
There are many kids, particularly adolescents, who can be unkind and intimidating to their less "cool" peers. And in most circumstances, there is little that can be done to prevent that first instance of bullying from occurring.
That said, there is a lot that can be done to try to prevent the bullying from becoming an ongoing, recurrent problem. At this point, a word of caution is definitely in order: These steps are neither easy nor comfortable for anyone involved.
Five (5) Steps to Help Prevent Ongoing, or Recurring Bullying
(1) Make Sure Your Home is a Safe Haven for Your Child. A prerequiste for being able to stop your child from being bullied is that your child feels comfortable to confide in you that they are being bullied in the first instance. At the risk of stating the obvious, you can't help prevent that which you don't know about.
(2) Be on the Lookout for Signs that Something is Amiss. Sometimes, it may have little or nothing to do with the type of home we have, but our child may, by nature, feel uncomfortable discussing such personal and unpleasant matters. In those circumstances, you still have some other arrows in your proverbial quiver. Be alert for any signficant changes in their behavior, and, if necessary, obtain the guidance of a trusted professional, and try to elicit the reasons for this behavioral change.
(3) Get the Facts Straight. Once you become aware of a problem, it is absolutely imperative that you get the facts straight. The reason for this is several-fold, but chief among them is that there is a significant chance you will be met with resistance both from the school, as well as the bully (or bullies, as the case may be), who will likely plead ignorance or a completely different set of facts. Moreover, assuming the school takes your version of events seriously, the consequences for everyone involved - both scholastically and socially - can be quite serious. Therefore, it behooves you to make sure you investigate as thoroughly as possible the events that transpired to make sure that you have a clear and unbiased picture as possible before taking further action.
(4) If Your Child Was Indeed Bullied, Say Something - in Writing. Without a doubt, the litany of stories in the news over the last several years portraying vividly the terrible world and sometimes tragic outcomes of bullying is nothing short of horrific. There is one small postitive note in all this, however: increased awareness and vigilance about bullying by the schools, many of whom have adopted a strict no-tolerance policy regarding bullying. To that end, the stigma once associated with raising your voice when your child has been bullied is far less than it once was. That said, each school and situation is different. Once you've made sure that an incident report has been created and is on file (I would strongly recommend requesting a copy of the report), the school can no longer deny that they know about the problem. And, at the risk of stating the sad but obvious, often the only thing that will get the school to take firm and appropriate remedial action is the threat of a lawsuit, which is exactly what that incident report (whether their internal incident form or your certified letter) means to them. (For a further explanation of why this letter and/or incident report is an indispensible part of a lawsuit against a school in New York, please see "How to Prove Your School Negligence Claim Under New York Law").
(5) Follow Up With the School to Find Out What Remedial Measures Are Being Taken. Once you've taken it this far, and brought the issue to the school's attention, don't let the issue die on the vine. Follow up. Even the best-intentioned school administrators can get bogged down in other pressing matters, just like the rest of us. Generally, and at a minimum, the school administration will require the bully's parents to come in to discuss the matter to make sure it doesn't recur.
Hopefully, none of this will ever come up at any of our children's schools. But if it does, it may be worthwhile consulting with a New York school negligence attorney.