Bullying: Help your child take control; know signs, resolutions
August 19, 2011
Editor's note: This is the second article of a three-part series on bullying. The first article, printed in the Aug. 5 Guardian, focused on what bullying is and how it affects children. Look for the continuation in future issues of The Guardian.
FORT POLK, La. " Imagine receiving a call from your child's principal. Your child has been involved in a bullying incident. You are asked to come to the school to discuss the issue.
When you arrive, you see your child has been beaten up " his clothes are disheveled, he looks upset and you see blood on his shirt. The principal tells you a group of students who have been bullying your child for a few weeks, attacked your child on the playground. The other students are suspended and your child is excused for the day. When you get in the car to take him home, what do you do?
It is not only important to know what bullying is, but also what you can do to help your child after an incident. Do you talk to him about it? What do you say? How do you help him cope with what happened and quell his fears?
The first thing to do is discuss the incident with your child, said Charlotte Butler, a licensed clinical social worker specializing in child and adolescent psychology services with Fort Polk's Department of Behavioral Health.
"Children must go to a teacher or parent to help solve the problem because parents only know what their children tell them. Parents can't step in to solve anything without their child telling them there is a problem," Butler said.
"It's possible instances of bullying occurred long before the violence, but the child may have been too scared of being named a 'tattletale' that they remain silent," she said.
Parents should also discuss bullying with their children. "We can't just say it's something that happens to everyone and expect it to go away. Bullying can have lasting effects. Ask if your child understands they didn't do anything wrong. Do they know responsibility for the incident lies in the person who did the bullying, not the victim? It's important to know what they think and feel," Butler said.
Butler suggested asking the child if there is anyone who can help them while they are at school. "Some kids can find people or friends they feel safe around or their peers may stick up for them and keep the bully at bay," she said.
The focus after a bullying issue cannot just be on the victim " it also has to be on the bully, Butler said. "The bully needs to be punished to generate some discomfort and guilt. Punishment is an appropriate action for someone who tries to cause pain to someone else," she said. After punishment, the bully needs to get involved in counseling to understand their actions, Butler said.
"Kids often choose to bully to gain some control. When they get that reward, whether it's power or control, it makes their bad behavior stronger. They need to get the message that their actions aren't OK and they are disregarding another person's feelings. Consequences are important; otherwise, bullies are more likely to have problems in adolescence and adulthood with authority, law and criminal behavior," Butler said.
While bullying that occurs in school can be simpler to resolve, cyber bullying creates new problems. With instant messaging services, anonymity is provided. The user does not need to use his real name and can make up a screen name. This makes it difficult to identify the person causing problems. With social media sites like Facebook, a name is listed on each comment. While it can still be difficult to figure out to whom you should report the problem, the person is identified.
"It's important for parents to have passwords to things like MySpace and Facebook. Children won't readily admit there is a problem. If parents have the password and can check up on their child's page, the parent can see the issue unfolding before it gets too serious," Butler said.
The Vernon Parish School Board takes bullying seriously. Its policy manual identifies bullying, cyber bullying, intimidation, harassment and hazing as threatening behavior to fellow students. The school resolves cyber bullying, if it occurs "on school property by another student using a computer, mobile phone or other ... technology … or while off school property when the actions are intended to have an effect on the student when the student is on school property."
The policy includes behavior at school-sponsored activities, on school buses or at bus stops and while walking to or from the bus stop.
Louisiana also takes cyber bullying seriously, passing House Bill 1259 in July 2010 that identifies cyber bullying as illegal behavior. "Parents can contact their local law enforcement to begin an investigation if cyber bullying is suspected and keep records of all sent messages," said Bobby Lungrin, Fort Polk Department of Emergency Services Police Chief.
Whether bullying occurs on or off school property, keep records and report the issue as necessary. Vernon Parish School Board requires "all students, teachers and other school employees" to take "responsible measures within the scope of their individual authority to prevent violations of this policy," according to its policy manual.
"If bullying is happening at school, support your child," Butler said. "Talking to teachers, the principal and asking what needs to be done to control or limit the problem can resolve it sooner. Say, 'Let's meet again in a couple weeks to see how it's going.'"
Taking the side of your child can go a long way to help end the problem, Butler said. "Maybe we haven't always intervened enough with other instances. Sometimes, we see it as a typical childhood thing where kids get bullied and have to learn how to handle it. I believe that thinking is changing now," she said. "Kids need support. If you do nothing, there won't be any consequences for the bully."
For more information on the Vernon Parish School Board bullying policy, visit www.vpsb.-k12.la.us and click on "VPSB Policy Manual."