Did you know? One out of every five students reports being bullied during the school year. (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2016)
As a school administrator, some of the hardest conferences I have held were with parents whose child was being targeted by a bully. In elementary school, with set classes and teacher supervision, it is possible to solve the problem by limiting the bully’s ability to interact with the other child. But in middle school and high school it is not that easy. We rely on student reporting to counselors, administrators, or school resource officers.
As I dealt with these bullies and their targets, I learned to recognize common traits in students who successfully fended themselves from the emotional attacks when others could not.
Family, especially parents, are the ones who show kids how to build a defense for themselves. The stories kids share with you about their day are always varied and sometimes dramatic, but it is their world and their experience. Take your cue from them.
Do they feel safe or fearful?
How confident do they feel about their ability to succeed in school?
Who are their friends?
What characteristics do they admire in the friends?
Do they communicate often through social media?
Who are their friends on social media?
Where are their friends in their daily interactions?
What activities do they share with friends?
Friendships are essential for students of all ages. Belonging to a group of friends provides emotional and physical security. Bullies target students who are isolated and are likely to suffer in silence. Friends break through that isolation and stand by each other.
Bullies feed off angry or tearful reactions. When they do not get those reactions, they move on to easier targets. Schools teach students to calmly defend themselves and not to react emotionally. That is difficult to do when you are feeling insecure and alone. Students who have positive friendships are more likely to stay calm and confident when faced with emotionally upsetting conversations.
Finally, as parents, your willingness to listen and support your kids as they deal with their daily experiences is the most loving, meaningful gift you can provide, no matter how old they are!
Shelby County Schools is quite clear with their policies about student harassment. On their website and student code of conduct, bully/harassment behavior is defined and reporting procedures are provided.
Ellen Mooney is a recently retired principal and teacher with more than 45 years of experience in K-12 education.