A Widespread Problem
Bullying has become a national epidemic in America and is seriously affecting our nation’s children. The problem is so severe and widespread that it has become recognized as a public health problem. In fact, on March 1, 2004, the United States Department of Health and Human Services announced a new initiative to deal with bullying in America. Bullying is defined as aggressive behavior that is intentional, involves an imbalance of power or strength and is repeated over time. Bullying can take many forms including physical assaults, teasing, name-calling, intimidation, or social exclusion. The United States Department of Health and Human Services reports that 15-25% of students are confronted with the aggressive acts of a bully. While school violence declined four percent during the past several years, the incidence of aggressive, bullying behaviors increased by five percent between 1999 and 2001. The National Education Association reports that bullying is considered a major concern by schools across the United States.
Despite these alarming statistics, children who are faced with repeated aggression in the classroom are often left unsupported, unheard and unsafe. Unfortunately, adults often feel that being bullied is a normal rite of passage and a part of growing up that children must learn to handle on their own. Alternatively, adults may not be aware of bullying problems. According to the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Maternal and Child Bureaus, 25% of teachers see nothing wrong with bullying and intervene in only four percent of bullying incidents. Students tend to believe that adult intervention is infrequent and unhelpful. Parents may be reluctant to intervene when they discover that their child is being bullied. Reasons for this reluctance may include lack of knowledge of how to help, embarrassment, fear of appearing over-protective, respect for the child’s request for confidentiality, or the belief that it is up to the child to stop the bullying. Children usually need help to end bullying and the younger child will require immediate and effective intervention.
How Parents Should Help Young Children Deal with Bullying
First, a parent should enlist the help of teachers and administrators at the preschool or school. Educators have a responsibility to ensure a safe, non-threatening learning environment. Schools should have an anti-bullying policy in place. Ask for a copy of the policy and use that as a starting point for your discussion with the educators at your child’s school. The HRSA guidelines on dealing with bullying state that parents should never fear calling a school to report bullying and should expect help in dealing with the incident. When meeting with teachers:
- Present a written record of bullying incidents and explain your concerns to the teacher in a non-confrontational way.
- Ask the teacher if she has observed any incidents of aggression involving your child.
- Ask the teacher how she intends to stop the aggressive incidents.
- Ask for a referral to a mental health specialist or counselor if you are concerned about how your child is dealing with the stress of being bullied.
- Set up a follow-up appointment to discuss the progress made.
- If there is no improvement, speak with an administrator at the school.
- Keep notes of all your meetings and ask the school to keep written records of all incidents as well, in case law-enforcement personnel need to become involved.
According to the HRSA, parents should expect the following from educators regarding bullying:
- Bullying should be investigated immediately and plans should quickly be made to end the aggression against your child.
- NEVER should a joint meeting be held between your child and the aggressor. Bullying is a form of victimization, not a conflict, and should not be mediated.
- The aggressor should be told that their behavior will not be tolerated and appropriate consequences should be applied.
- The victim should not be made to feel like the bullying is his or her fault.
- The educator, not the parent, should contact the parents of the bully about the incidents.
Usually, incidents of aggression between peers can be handled within the school environment. Law-enforcement officials may need to become involved if your child has been physically assaulted or threatened with bodily injury. If the problem persists or escalates and the school is unable to stop the aggression, parents may need to consult an attorney about their rights.