The notion of a schoolyard bully looks very different in 2017. Now, bullying can be a relentless process that continues online long after the school day has ended.
According to the I Am a Witness campaign (http://iwitnessbullying.org), one in four children each year are the victim of some form of bullying. That’s 13 million kids. Parents and schools are working together to change that.
Rob Rhodes, director of school counseling services for Greenville County Schools, said parents have to establish open communication with their children so they know if bullying occurs.
“It’s very important that parents talk and listen openly with their children and that they are modeling and teaching respect of others and being assertive,” he said.
The notion of teaching assertiveness may sound unusual to parents, but Rhodes believes it is very important, though it is important to note that victims are not at fault if they become the target of a bully. Rhodes says research shows that bullies are looking for candidates over whom to wield power.
“People that bully are asserting power,” he said. “If they don’t have power because (victims) say, ‘I would like you to stop,’ you express the boundary there. When you see bullying, it’s important to speak up against it – not in an aggressive or reactive way, but in an assertive way. Reinforce the fact that when they report or speak up, they are helping to address the issue.”
Rhodes said parents should pause and listen to their child before reacting.
“Really allow the child to tell you what occurred,” he said. “Thank them for doing that. A lot of times, people don’t report because they are afraid something negative will happen.”
Even if children have not expressed that they are being bullied, Rhodes said parents should be aware of signs, including changes in routine, changes in relationships, sadness, signs of depression, not sleeping or isolation.
“Start those conversations,” he said. “Always offer to help. Have a very open, positive relationship with the school. That is best established from the beginning, but at any time make yourself a partner with the school. Let us know if things are going well or if they are not. We want you to trust in us and vice versa that we are speaking the truth in support of students. Students can see that we are all in this together.”
Rhodes said schools have an obligation to follow policies and address behaviors, but also an obligation to help correct behavior. He said students have no right to intimidate or harass anyone else.
“People bully because there is a need they are attempting to meet,” he said. “They may not be able to articulate that. We have a responsibility to change that trajectory.”
• The Bully Project offers tools for parents, students and teachers. The 2011 documentary, “Bully,” available online, follows five families over the course of a school year and shows the disturbing consequences of bullying. www.thebullyproject.com
• The American Academy of Pediatrics gives parents concrete steps to take if their child is the victim of cyberbullying, including when to call the police. www.healthychildren.org/ English/Family-life/Media/Pages/ Cyberbullying
• The I Am a Witness campaign aims to teach children to use an emoji (shaped like a speech bubble with an eye in the center) whenever they see bullying. It can be posted online or sent as a text message in support of a student being bullied. The campaign uses the emoji and text stickers to drive students to the website where resources are available. http://iwitnessbullying.org
• Amaze offers animated videos about a variety of topics for tweens and teens, including bullying. http://amaze.org
• The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers detailed information about bullying, including prevention, response, cyberbullying and more. www.stopbullying.gov