Bullying in Schools: What to Do When Officials Can’t Help

As Parents Become Frustrated with Officials Who Can’t Help with Bullying in Schools, They Turn to Another Source

Ron Taffel

Almost nothing evokes more fear and dread in parents today than the omnipresent specter of social cruelty and bullying in schools.

Bullying in schools, combined with the seemingly inescapable online universe of hurt, has become part of the fabric of life today for kids and their parents. With 2.7 million incidents being reported each year, at least a third of kids report having been bullied recently. Bullying in schools knows no age, gender, economic, or ethnic bounds and can result in any number of issues, including kids avoiding school and the development of serious emotional problems.

Social cruelty is reported in every gathering of professionals I teach. By age 4, nursery school kids are forming exclusionary in-groups—“kindergarten-cool,” as I call it. A group of high school students recently went online to encourage a despondent peer “to end it already” and finally jump off his roof, as he’d been threatening to do for weeks.

Social cruelty and bullying in schools have always evoked strong reactions in my audiences, but it used to be that bullying triggered vociferous battles between the parents of presumed perpetrators and those of their alleged victims. Lately, however, I’ve noted that most parents identify with one another, recognizing that with a 24/7 gossip cycle, none of them has any real control over what their kids do, or what’s done to them.

Because of this shared vulnerability, parents direct harsh words less to one another and more toward school personnel and child professionals for their perceived ineptitude in addressing the bullying problem. Since most studies reveal that kids go to us adults for help and end up feeling we don’t know what to do either, it’s striking how little formal training we receive in this area. Thus it’s understandable that parents seek help elsewhere.

I recently consulted about Ian, an otherwise ordinary 7th-grader in a suburban public school. Things had gone missing from kids’ backpacks, and after talking it over with his stepmom, who wanted him to “do the right thing,” Ian told the guidance counselor who the thief was. The counselor then made a classic mistake: Somehow, he let the word out that Ian was the person who “ratted.”

For almost a year, every boy in his class taunted him. What was striking was that the girls were equally as relentless, assuring Ian—in case he had any thoughts otherwise—that no one in the school liked him. “Why don’t you just die?” one after another remarked.

When I consulted the school officials, no one had any answers other than to briefly suspend the perpetrators, implement prepackaged social-emotional interventions, mediate, and hope for the best. By contrast, Ian’s parents, furious as this ineptitude, told me about numerous “bully-sites” that assist parents in helping one another.

I was stunned to discover the extent of the practical suggestions and concrete action steps parents (and an increasing numbers of professionals) offered, which I then shared with school officials. In the end, finding one key “popular” boy to approach Ian in a friendly way changed the tide and let him slowly emerge from the hell of middle-school ostracism.

Topic: Parenting

Tags: add | avoiding school | bullied | bullying | bullying in schools | counselor | emotional problem | emotional problems | Parent Community | school bullying

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Friday, March 21, 2014 12:23:24 PM | posted by agustinv
Well stated. My observation was the same. While getting the assistance of "the popular" kid in school helped change the tide and stopped the bullying for the time being, I think it sends the wrong message. The moral value of "doing the right thing" should stand alone and in itself be enough because it promotes good social order, not because someone popular says it is. The real work begins with the parents teaching the values at home and it's not the responsibility of teachers, counselors, or therapist. Awareness, however, can be bolstered by the assistance of school staff and mental health providers in promoting/rewarding "the right thing to do".

Tuesday, December 10, 2013 5:39:58 AM | posted by janete2
Many boys get bullied because they don't match up with our culture's standards for masculinity; something as simple as not liking to play sports can result in years of exclusion and belittling. Check out The Last Boys Picked: Helping Boys Who Don't Play Sports Survive Bullies and Boyhood. Amazon, B&N, etc.

Monday, December 9, 2013 9:08:18 AM | posted by Colleague Last Name
Hi there, I have written a book 'Unbullyable: Bullying solutions for Parents and Children'. It is written specifically for parents of bullied children, and is currently selling worldwide. It's available on Amazon, in print or ebook format. Or, if in Australia, thru my website www.unbullyable.com.au sue@good2gr8.com.au

Saturday, December 7, 2013 4:03:21 AM | posted by sara david
excellent discussion. I like "Bullies, the Bullied and Bystanders" by Barbara DEColoroso. In my practice I am coming across situations where adults are bullied in the workplace, their homes if they are renters, their condos oif they are not on the strata council, their families at times. Doing the right thing is easy to advise and often very challenging to do. Sometimes it leads to being an outcast. The bullies often seem to win. As one person said, we need only look at the political and business arenas to see how the rich bully the poor.

Friday, December 6, 2013 1:48:45 PM | posted by Kiki Zafiridou
Nicely done. I've been an educator for 20 years and a therapist for the last 10. What this article says is very true and works, especially among middle school age children. I believe that when a peer stands for fairness, compassion and kindness, when a popular kid dares to set a different example from the one that leads to bullying behaviors, it sets a powerful example to the other kids, of not only in regards to what it means to be a "good human" but also that it is " safe" to choose the right thing even though it may go against what your peers are doing. It is a powerful example that has the influence no adult can have on kids of this age group. I believe schools need to identify in their schools such potential leaders that also come from families with strong healthy value systems and more strategically recruit them to interfere with emerging situations through out the school year. Kindness, compassion and doing the right thing are as contagious as the opposite , bullying, when influential peers lead the way.

Friday, December 6, 2013 4:27:02 AM | posted by Katje Wagner
What an important issue - thank you for addressing it here. An excellent book which addresses bullying and related issues is "Raising Parents Raising Kids: Hands-on Wisdom for the Next Generation" by Dawn Menken. More info here: http://www.dawnmenken.com/multimedia_publications.html

Thursday, December 5, 2013 9:12:59 PM | posted by lizj
I can see how the assistance of a 'key' popular boy would help an ostricized child re-integrate and develop acceptance again. I'm glad it was successful, but I wonder if it's not somewhat of a band-aid? Could tying his acceptance to that of a 'popular' student be a temporary effect? It's wonderful that the popular boy was willing to help, and I hope they can build on the care and acceptance he demonstrated in the school. However, is there a possiblity that this method may send a message to students reinforcing elitism and cliques as having power over others, rather than the internalized sense of self worth I think parents want their children to develop? If the culture reveals a tendency toward blame (of the boy who 'tattled') rather than responsibility for the actions that necessitated someone to do the right thing, I think there may be a great deal more work to be done to continue to support Ian and others to feel safe. In the long term the utilization of restorative justice models and other supports can help create a culture where the perception is that the school community is a safe place to admit mistakes and take responsibility, as well as to challenge the status quo and problem solve collaborative solutions for issues like this. Seeing adults model, support, and demonstrate what it means to be collaborative, inclusive, and personally accountable is one important component of truly teaching, and it's positive that parents were able to find resources amongst each other. Kids seeing 2 sides, parents and school personnel, blame and use 'harsh words', in effect bullying those who believe differently undermines what we want our children to learn. Unfortunately, adults often behave similarly to the clique-ish, fear-based behavior. (sounds a bit like politics, doesn't it?) If it is part of the dominant culture and accepted, we can not expect to effect more change than individual band-aid approaches. Ian's home and school culture can recognize and laud the value of his actions, and those of other children and adults who show similar courage, as well as structuring lighter 'sentences' for those who admit mistakes, creating a 'blame free' culture where accountability and not blame or ostricism ala 'Mean Girls' is the norm. As adults, I think it helps to admit our faults for the way we conduct ourselves at times. In schools, at home, in politics, in business -even in social services agencies, we are sometimes hypocrital in our actions, and adolescents are good at picking that out. Being '. . the change we wish to see in the world' or at least working on it and modeling the accountability, desire and motivation to change ourselves can't hurt our ability to cultivate the same in our shared (school, home, community) children.

Thursday, December 5, 2013 7:07:21 PM | posted by Susan Gardner
What are these "bully sites" which parents have found helpful, and that you passes on to the school?