Thursday, April 30, 2009

Childhood Bullies: Part Two

As parents, we send our children off to school with a few tears and a few more worries. Will they succeed academically? Will they make friends? Will they choose the right kind of friends? Will they avoid the pitfalls of youth? If there are special needs, will the school manage the IEP adequately to help our children overcome the obstacles they face?

I don’t know about you but how other children would treat my girls never entered my head. My girls are nice girls, what is there not to like? As behind the scenes reports of the insidious shooting sprees at Columbine High School and Virginia Tech University over the last decade described the perpetrators as “loners,” students who had been at the mercy of teasing and ridicule, I never dreamed that my children could also be victims of school bullying. I don’t know why I didn’t think that through. After all, I was teased as a child about my thick glasses, teasing demeaning enough to have a lasting impact on me. I figured schools’ attitudes had changed over the last twenty years and the policy of “handle it yourself and don’t tattle” was archaic and obsolete.

Schools have become more tough on bullying, reaching a zero tolerance policy. Yet teasing, bullying and ridicule still happens. Next week, I hope to share an interview with a local school official whom I’m confident will give some terrific insight into why bullying happens and what the schools are doing about it.

I’m finding out I’m not the only parent who can be clueless as to what is happening at school or on the playground. Here are some things a parent can do to discover if their child is the object of school bullying.

1. Listen and take seriously when your child complains of unfair treatment from a fellow classmate. While the lone incident may seem minor, your child may be sending out a test line to see how you react. Ask if this has happened before. Ask if the other child is usually his friend. Ask how the other child treats other children. Don’t be timid to contact the teacher and ask the teacher to observe interactions between your child and the other child for a few days.

2. Look for warning signs. Is your child withdrawing? Is there a major shift in behavior? This should have been our warning sign. When we moved from Kansas to North Carolina, my happy-go-lucky daughter suddenly became reserved and somber. I thought it was just the difficulty of moving from a small rural school to a large multicultural urban school. Only years later did I find out bullying was happening as well.

Is your child hesitant to be involved with other children? Is your child aggressive and “bullying” others himself? This actually may be a rebound from bullying he has received; as a child, he doesn’t have the coping skills to know how to respond, so he lashes out.

3. Be aware of potential bullying triggers. If your child moves to a new school, he or she will be more of a target, simply because they are new. My daughter was picked on in fifth grade because she attended a school in a rich neighborhood and didn’t wear the latest fashions. If your child has no friends, bullying may be more likely to occur because your child is seen as a social outcast. If your child is different in any way – handicap, social/economic status, a child of integrity or one who doesn’t cuss like the other kids – bullying and teasing is more likely to occur.

I hope to share with you next week from my interview what parents can do to help their child not be a victim of bullying. I also want to share how you can work with the school your child attends to stop the bullying.

Each child is precious in the sight of God. Each of us, our children included, are made in the image of God. Everyone, no matter who they are, deserves to be treated with kindness and respect. Let’s teach our children to lift others up instead of tearing them down. Yet we live in a fallen world where there will always be nasty people in our lives. Let’s also help our children kept their eyes on Jesus for, after all, Jesus’ opinion of them is the only one that counts.

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