I know I’m probably not unique in reflecting about family, tough situations and school at this time of year. With another school year for my kids closed, I find myself looking back at where we’ve come from as a unit. I have a son who has graduated from high-school and is starting college out of state next fall. I find myself looking at the charity I helped to visualize and manage, Bullying Recovery Resource Center. I see how far we have come, and how far we have to go. I am filled with gratitude and a bit of sadness.
It wasn’t that long ago, five years ago, that our family’s lives were in complete disarray. My son had just completed his 7th grade. He had endured months of relentless bullying. He was physically, emotionally and verbally berated daily at his former school. He was starting to slip away from the energetic, gregarious and humorous boy he was into a shell of survival. The bullying he tolerated was eating him alive before our very eyes. He was diagnosed with depression, anxiety, PTSD and had thoughts of suicide. He was slipping away, and the rest of our family was desperate and frightened.
I am unable to recount all the strife he endured due to legal reasons. That isn’t really the purpose of this anyways. His road back to himself was filled with peaks and valleys. It included mental health professionals, medication, two parents a sister and extended family who sought to comfort and prod him forward, a new school, and some of the most amazing teachers I have ever met.
The last five years we at BRRC have become experts about bullying. Our charity has been blessed to help people across the state who were in the same exact shoes we were. The families who contact us are desperate, exhausted, and dumbfounded. We let them know they are no longer alone, and we work together to keep their children safe and to find solutions that will work for their family.
If there are only a few things I could impart to others about taking a bite out of bullying, it would be the following:
Upstanders. Become one. Teach and coach your kids to become one. Acknowledge those who are.
The dictionary defines an upstander as “a person who speaks or acts in support of an individual or cause, particularly someone who intervenes on behalf of a person being attacked or bullied.”
My son had two students that we later learned were upstanders when he went through the bullying. These children reported the abuse he was enduring to school administrators. One child was so impassioned that he brought his mother with him. We knew nothing of these events until we had left the school. When my son learned that he had allies that cared enough to speak out about what he was enduring, he felt empowered and much less alone. In my opinion, upstanders save lives.
If your child shares with you that they are being bullied, drop everything, and truly listen.
A young person’s job is to attend school successfully. That includes more than academics. Being bullied and harassed feels like a failure. It can be extremely difficult for a child to tell his or her parents about the challenges they are having at school. Take the time to listen, stay calm, ask open-ended and non-judgmental questions, and to come with ideas and plans together.
I also tell parents that the whole story can come out it pieces over an extended period of time. Family and home are a bullied child’s safe zone. They very likely will talk about a piece of what they are enduring to “test” the family and see how it will be received. Listening with love and compassion cannot be over emphasized. They are counting on you to help and not make things worse.
Bullying must be STOPPED. It is not negotiated, and it is not dealt with using conflict resolution tactics. An apology and a handshake don’t STOP bullying.
The new legislation that we helped create, Jack and Cait’s Law, addresses conflict versus bullying in Colorado. Bullying always includes a difference in power and an intent to harm. When these are present, it is bullying, and the target needs to feel safe, and the instigator needs a reasonable consequence. Both target and the provoker need help. It cannot be ignored. It is up to the adults in charge to make it stop. It is up to the parents of the target to make sure it is addressed.
I wish you and your family a safe, fun, and healthy summer. We are here in the summer too for any questions or needs you may have. http://www.bullyingrecoveryresourcecenter.org/ 303-991-1397.