I’m an educator, so topics involving students peak my interest. I also like to watch interesting documentaries and news shows, so when topics about students appear on these shows, I’m very interested. As a result, I’ve watched several shows about bullying. I’ve even seen some shows that blame bullying for a child committing suicide. How tragic!
I’ve listened to parents who’ve lost children to suicide express how they knew nothing about the bullying, how their child did not tell them what was going on, and how they felt so helpless. I’ve also listened to parents who found out about the bullying before a child took his/her own life, and many times their discovery was by accident–discovering something on social media, seeing used tissues in the child’s bedroom, or finding out from another person.
This caused me to ask a question: Why are parents so often unaware of what is taking place in the lives of their children? What has prevented the child from asking for help? According to stopbullying.gov only between 20 and 30% of children tell adults what is going on. This is appalling to me!
I have worked with very young children for some time. In my experience, and in the experience of others with young children, parents are almost always informed when something has been done to them. We even have a name for it: tattling. I know a second grade teacher who recently created a Tattle Turtle box, so that children can place their written tattles there, to prevent the teacher (whose end-of-school-year ears are tired, no doubt) from hearing endless tattles each day.
So, where has the shift happened? Most children tell all, and then a shift occurs so that when harm is done to them (whether verbal, written, or physical) they no longer tell adults.
Some might then blame teachers, parents, and children-who-don’t-want-to-be-tattled-on from saying, Don’t be a tattle tale for our dilemma. But I beg to differ. Any good preschool or elementary teacher will tell you that she tells her students the difference between tattling and reporting. Children are given guidelines to consider before reporting and are discouraged from tattling. Ask most children, and they can tell you the difference. So, discouraging tattling does not prevent reporting.
What about peer pressure? Could children be afraid to disappoint their peers? Sure. This could a cause for not informing adults about bullying behavior.
What about threats? Maybe the bully threatens the child not to tell, or else. This sounds much like those who sexually abuse children. If you tell, then I’ll hurt your _____. (Fill in the blank.)
Some may place the blame on parents. Hear me carefully: No one is blame for a person taking his/her own life. If your child, or anyone you love, has taken his/her own life, you are not to blame. I pray with you and for you as you grieve.
Could there be a way, however, for parents to offer hope to children who feel desperate, in an effort to prevent potential suicide? I believe that this is the key to helping children receive relief from bullying. Let me you Five Ways to Stop Bullying.
- Model appropriate behavior.
- Be self-aware. At its core bullying is when one person places him/herself above another and treats the perceived lower person in a poor way. Well-meaning parents may do this without realizing it. They may speak kindly to the woman with the expensive bag and make a disapproving comment at the homeless man on the corner. This is your chance to model how to treat people.
- Jesus told us (through those that asked him) what the greatest commandments were. He said to love God first and to love our neighbors (those we are around) like we love ourselves. Jesus himself spent time with those who were not well-liked (tax collectors, woman at the well), he elevated children as those who would inherit the Kingdom of God, and he told stories that held the Samaritan as the hero. So, it should come as no surprise that Christians (those who hold faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, James 2:1, ESV) should treat all people in kind ways, not showing partiality.
- Do not tolerate bullying.
- Develop a family definition of bullying, and call it out immediately if it occurs in you home.
- Do not allow name-calling in your home.
- Do not allow physical harm (hitting/pushing/kicking) in your home.
- Express frustration when you see or hear of people being treated poorly (on the news and in everyday life).
- Ask open-ended questions to encourage dialogue.
- What is trending at school?
- What is going on in social media today? (Ask what apps your child is using. This may change regularly.)
- If you could spend time with any other student, who would it be? If you could avoid spending time with someone, who would it be?
- Tell me when you feel safest. Is there a time recently when you’ve felt scared?
- Tell me something that makes you happy. What makes you feel sad?
- Be the hero.
- Express to your child that you will do all in your power to keep him/her safe.
- Show yourself to be a safe place. Listen, provide a safe home, and do your best to meet your child’s needs.
- Reminisce about times when you were able to protect your child when he/she was younger.
- Ask your child this question: If I had any superpower (and that superpower could only help you), what superpower would I have?
- Be the adult.
- If bullying behavior exists, it must be stopped.
- This may require reporting the behavior to school administrators, or to another entity.
- If preventative action is not taken at this level, then the behavior may need to be reported to authorities. Review the laws in your state.
- Regardless of how you feel about the behavior, be the adult. (Remember, you’re a superhero…) Do not take actions into your own hands, behave in a way that could cause harm to anyone else, or attempt take revenge.
- Pay attention to signs of depression and take action if necessary.
- Remind your child that you have his/her best interest in mind and that might mean that a third party needs to become involved.
- Contact a trusted youth pastor, licensed counselor, or a medical professional for advice.
Be the parent who knows what’s going on. Be proactive in your child’s life. Together, let’s become aware of our children’s concerns (no matter how scary) to prevent even one more child from becoming the victim of a bully.