Anti-Bullying Advocacy

Anti-Bullying Advocacy

 Anti-Bullying Advocacy

With a new school year starting, BRRC asked the Director of Advocacy, Tom Ahlborg, to share his experience about laying the groundwork for advocating and defending a bullied child.  Tom has worked with many families across the state helping to educate parents and school officials about bullying, discuss alternatives that work for individual families, and help advocate for bullying targets.  Here are his recommendations:

DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT

I believe that many administrators are inherently good and will do their utmost to STOP bullying.  HOWEVER, too many administrators, teachers, counselors, and staff don’t or just fail to STOP bullying.  

When it comes to getting called out for poor performance on their job by not STOPPING the bullying, administrators, unfortunately, just like many people these days, will LIE to stay out of trouble.  Therefore, it is so important to DOCUMENT everything from the start when it comes to reporting and communicating with administrators / teachers about bullying.  

REPORTING AND COMMUNICATING

When reporting, email is the best option unless your school has specific forms to report bullying.  Reporting via email creates a chain of documented conversations with the school and administration.  Further, should you have a conversation with teachers and administrators (see below) where plans and promises are made, it is crucial to document the meeting with a follow-up email stating what was discussed, planned, timelines and what was promised.  The email you send should request an email from the Administration requesting agreement.

Note:  If your school has handwritten forms or on-line forms, make sure to get a copy/picture of the form before delivering it to Administrators.  

RECORDING CONVERSATIONS

In Colorado and other states, individuals are allowed to record conversations that they are a partaking in.  In Colorado, the law allows you to record all conversations that you are involved in without notifying the other party that you are recording.  This is an instrumental tool in advocating for a bullied child.  Multiple times I have caught administrators in a lie from these recordings and used it in my pursuit in advocating for a bullied child.  

Many parents BRRC has worked with started out trusting the school (teachers/Administrators/Principal).  Many times, parents are told it will be handled, the other children have been spoken with, their parents have been notified, and/or that the instigators have received some sort of consequence.  Many times, this is NOT the case.  From my experience as an advocate, it may be a mistake to take the administrator at their word.  If the bullying continues keep reporting it and use the suggestions I have suggested.  If the school does not properly investigate and deal with the bullying, it is almost certain it will continue.  BRRC is here to help.  If you feel that the school is not addressing the bullying, please contact us and one of our advocates can work with you to properly advocate for your child.  

No child deserves to be bullied.

Racial Bullying

Racial Bullying

 Racial Bullying

“No human race is superior; no religious faith is inferior. All collective judgments are wrong. Only racists make them.” ― Elie Wiesel

July is National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month.  This is observed to bring awareness to the unique struggles that racial and ethnic minority communities face regarding mental illness in the United States.  Not only is this an issue that needs to be addressed, but the Covid-19 pandemic has made it more challenging for racial and ethnic minority groups to get access to mental health services.  Covid-19 has also opened the door for heightened harassment and bullying of Asian American and Pacific Islander.

The definition of racism includes prejudice, discrimination and antagonism directed at others because of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.  Racial bullying therefore is a type of racism where an antagonist’s bullying focuses on race, ethnicity, or culture.  This type of bullying is also referred to as prejudicial bullying.  It arises from a misguided or learned belief that certain groups of people deserve to be treated differently or with less respect.  Sadly, and all too often, this type of bullying is severe and can open the door to hate crimes.

 

Anytime a child is bullied because of race, religion, or sexual orientation it should be reported.  Do not ignore the bullying or hope it will end.  There is too much risk it will escalate.

What creates a racist bully?

Historian George Fredrickson in his book Racism: A Short History tells us that “racism exists when one group or historical collectivity dominates, excludes, or seeks to eliminate another on the basis of differences that it believes are hereditary and unalterable.”  He further explains that racism is a social behavior in which the dominant group (bully) collectively oppresses the targeted group (target).  The target or targeted group is seen as different than the dominant group and therefore is “less than.”

Author, Barbara Coloroso in her book The Bully, the Bullied, and the Not-So-Innocent Bystander explains that racist bullying is a learned behavior.  She states “kids have to be taught to be racist before they can engage in racist bullying.  Racist bullying takes place in a climate where children are taught to discriminate against a group of people, where differences are seen as bad, and where common bonds of humanity are not celebrated.”

 

Why is racist bullying especially troublesome?

I ran across a statistic that brought me to tears.  Pediatrics Publication reported that between 1991 to 2017, suicidal attempts among Black teenagers rose by 73%, while attempts among white teenagers decreased.  Not all adolescents who attempt suicide have been bullied, however studies have suggested that as much as 50% of teens who attempt to take their life have been bullied. Stopbullying.gov reports that Black and Hispanic youth who are bullied are more likely to suffer academically than their white peers.  Furthermore, two separate studies report that bias-based bullying is more strongly associated with compromised health than general bullying and race-related bullying is significantly associated with negative emotion and physical health effects.

 

Take action/What you can and should do

The US Department of Education Office for Civil Rights declares that “if you believe a student has been treated unfairly – for example, treated differently, harassed, bullied, or retaliated against – because of their race or national origin, there are a number of actions you can take:

  1. Notify the school leader immediately.  If you don’t get the help you need, file a formal complaint with the school, school district, college, or university.  Keep records of the responses you receive.
  2. Write down the details about what happened, where and when the incident happened, who was involved, and the names of any witnesses. Do this for every instance of discrimination and keep copies of any related documents or other information.
  3. Ask the school or college/university to translate its documents and messages into a language you understand. Ask for an interpreter if you need help speaking to school staff in a language other than English.
  4. If the school or college/university does not take steps to address your complaint or the discrimination continues, consider filing a complaint with the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Education at https://www2.ed.gov/ocr/complaintintro.html.”

Additionally, if you live in Colorado, you can contact the Colorado Civil Rights division and file a complaint there as well. 

Discrimination and racial bullying are wrong, unlawful, demeaning, and can cause grave harm. Under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, discrimination based on race, color, or national origin in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance is prohibited.  Your educational institution must respond to instances of discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, ethnicity, or national origin that deny or limit your ability to take part in and benefit from your school’s educational programs and activities.

Bullying Recovery Resource Center can help as well.  If you know a child who is being racially bullied and are unsure how to proceed, we can help.  We offer advocacy help for parents and caregivers to empower them with the tools to stop bullying.  We can also help file complaints with Civil Rights offices, discuss options that work for your family, and create a bridge to healing.

 

Federal Action:

In May, the Pursing Equity in Mental Health Care Act (H.R.1475) passed out of the U.S. House and was introduced in the U.S. Senate (S.1795) shortly after.  This legislation would work to reduce racial disparities in mental health care in several ways, including:

  • Supporting research on racial and ethnic disparities in mental health care
  • Encouraging cultural competency training for mental health professionals
  • Designing mental health education programs for BIPOC communities

If you are interested in supporting the passage of S1795, please urge your U.S. Senators to support the Pursuing Equity in Mental Health Act.

Three Things

Three Things

 Three Things

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.

 Bullying Legislation in Colorado 2021

 Bullying Legislation in Colorado 2021


 Bullying Legislation in Colorado 2021

By Dru Ahlborg, BRRC

As our nation and our state begin cautiously to emerge from the pandemic, we are starting to congregate and socialize and children are heading back to in-person learning on a permanent basis. While most kids (and their families) are delighted at this development, many, unfortunately, are not.

Bullying, always a problem in our society, changed its shape during the lockdown as in-person bullying took a hiatus and cyberbullying saw a significant uptick.  Now in-person bullying is expected to come roaring back as schools once again open their doors and children come flooding in after a very stressful time for many families. 

The good news for children in Colorado is that we are finally recognizing that bullying is an epidemic in our state and our country.  The Colorado Model Bullying Prevention and Education Policy was adopted in July, 2019 to provide guidance to school districts in developing bullying prevention and education.

 It is time, though, to improve this document.  Colorado House Bill 21-1221 (Jack and Cait’s Law) will utilize the stakeholder process when updating the model policy and must include parents of students who have been bullied.  The bill also requires schools to report bullying and provides clarification of conflict versus bullying. The role of cyberbullying during online instruction is also addressed. 

Jack Padilla and Caitlyn Haynes, the Colorado children for whom the bill is named, tragically ended their lives after being relentlessly bullied.  The suicides of Jack and Cait are illustrative of a much larger problem, however. According to the 2019 National Center for Educational Statistics, one out of every five (20.2 percent) students report being bullied. 

The Cyberbullying Research Center breaks down bullying by states and in 2019, 83.5 percent of Colorado students reported having been bullied at some time, and 65.8 percent reported being bullied in the past 30 days (A significant jump from 2016 when it was reported at 51.5 percent).

The Center for Disease Control tells us that students who experience bullying are at an increased risk for depression, anxiety, sleep difficulties, lower academic achievement, and dropping out of school. 

Additionally, there are alarming statistics about the link between suicide and bullying.  A Yale University Study found that bullying targets are two to nine times more likely to consider suicide than non-targets and a study in Britain revealed that at least half the suicides of young people are related to bullying.

We as a state must take a stand against bullying and teen suicide.  It will take legislative action   to ensure that bullying is properly reported, that bullying is properly addressed, and that fine-tuning the Bullying Model Policy includes adults whose lives have been strongly impacted.  It is time to reduce bullying and teen suicide in our state. HB 21-1221 will be a great start!

For kids who are being bullied – and their families – please know that there are ways to get help now! Here is a list of resources:

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day via phone or chat: 1-800-273-8255

Colorado Crisis Services is available 24 hours a day via phone: 1-844-493-8255 or text “Talk” to 38255

Safe 2 Tell receives anonymous reports about anything that threatens you, your family or your community: 1-877-542-7233

Bullying Recovery Resource Center aids children and their families through education and advocacy who are dealing with bullying.  303-991-1397 or www.bullyingrecoveryresourcecenter.org

Bullying and Autistic Children

Bullying and Autistic Children


Bullying and Autistic Children.  Why it Happens, and How to Help Prevent and Stop it.

By Dru Ahlborg, BRRC

“It’s really cool that everybody’s a little different, but the same, too.”
– Julia the four-year-old girl with autism on Sesame Street

 

According to Psychology Today, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is “a developmental disorder that involves impairments in social interaction and communication, challenges with sensory processing, and repetitive behaviors.  The term ‘spectrum’ reflects the fact that symptoms vary across different individuals, ranging in type and severity.”

Our organization, Bullying Recovery Resource Center works with families whose child is or has been a target of bullying.  A large population of the parents we have spoken to and assisted have a child who is on the Autism Spectrum Disorder.  In more simple terms, a child with autism generally has difficulty communicating and understanding what people think and feel.  This makes it challenging for a child on the spectrum to respond to gestures, facial expressions, touch and even language.

The statistics surrounding children diagnosed with autism and related disabilities in relationship to bullying are alarming.  They are 2 to 3 times more likely to get bullied than other typically developing children.  In fact, according to organization Autism Speaks, nearly two-thirds (63%) of autistic spectrum youth have been bullied.  To make matters even worse, according to one study, when reporting bullying, youth in special education were told not to “tattle” almost twice as often as youth not in special education.

There appear to be several reasons why autistic people are targeted by bullies.  Bullies many times choose targets who have a perceived inability to respond assertively to bullying.  Children with autism generally do not recognize sarcasm and subtleties of speech and perpetrators of bullying will frequently mock and publicly humiliate the target.  Many autistic children are somewhat socially cut off from their peers, already have feelings of inadequacy and poor self-esteem and sometimes show limited control of what is happening around them.  Bullies are known to target children who exemplify these behaviors.

Strategies to disrupt the bullying of autistic children can be addressed in three different areas:

Preventing bullying, teachers helping to prevent bullying of autistic students and tips for parents for autistic children.

 

Bullying Prevention and Strategies:

Preventing bullying for autistic children requires two needs to be addressed.  The first is to address the needs of the autistic community and the second is addressing the attitude and environment that leads to bullying.

  • Autistic children can be educated about different forms of bullying that include unhealthy friendships and romantic relationships. Strategies can be suggested including speaking to a teacher or administrator about bullying incidents as well as self-advocating and asking for intermediation from the adults in charge.
  • Members of the school, church, sporting team, etc. can be informed about the nature of autism and characteristics of autistic children. An environment of encouragement and acceptance of all will lessen the likelihood of bullying.  A culture of inclusivity will reduce the chance that a child is harmed due to a difference in social or communication skills.
  • In schools, assigning proactive hallway monitors and adult buddies to autistic students will reduce bullying during the most chaotic and least structured portions of the day.

Bullying prevention and action for Teachers:

Teachers are the front line of defense for a target of bullying.  Here are some insightful ideas that teachers can adhere to.

  • Follow the school’s outlined procedures for reporting and addressing bullying behavior.
  • Encourage the bully’s target to talk about what happened with you. If the student cannot verbalize about it, encourage them to write, journal or even draw the event.  Reassure them that they are not “tattling.”
  • When you see bullying happen, step up and step in between the two parties. It is your responsibility to make the bullying event stop.
  • Meet with the bully’s target in a safe place and provide support and talk about what happened. Speak to any students who may be witnesses and calmly ask them what happened.

Bullying Prevention and interaction for parents:

It is paramount that parents of autistic children act at the first hint of their child being bullied.  Often times a child, and especially autistic children, may not readily speak up to their parents and let them know they are being harassed, targeted and bullied.  Some warning signs that parents need to pay attention to are unwillingness to go to school, sudden change in routine, stress or anxiety, decline in academic performance or inability to maintain focus, torn clothes or damaged books and unexplained cuts or bruises.

Here are some great ideas for parents to get involved and reduce the threat of bullying for their autistic child.

  • Visit the school often – primarily as an observer.
  • Have frequent conversations with your child and ask open-ended questions such as: “Who did you sit with at lunch? Which friends do you talk to during the day?  What is your least favorite class?  Why?”
  • Have open communication channels with teachers and ask them frequently about your child’s interactions at school.
  • Talk to the school administration about the characteristics of autism.
  • Have open dialogue with teachers about your child’s specific strengths and challenges.
  • Speak to other school personnel (lunchroom monitors, bus drivers, etc.) about autism awareness. You may want to give them a hand-out or brochure to help educate them.
  • If you are concerned or if your child is bullied, make sure you report it to the school and follow up.
  • Consider including bullying in your child’s IEP. Social skills and self-advocacy skill goals should also be included in the IEP.
  • Encourage the school to facilitate a buddy for your child. For any child, especially a child who might be a target for bullying, it is important that they have at least one good friend who can help accompany them during less structured parts of the school day.
  • Mentor your child and remind them of their strengths. Remind them that they are NOT inferior to any other child.  Work with them to build their self-esteem.

Parent of a special needs children are truly superheroes.  Everyday these parents need to put on their capes and become hyperaware and responsive with their children.  It is heartbreaking that children become targets because of their different abilities with interacting with the world and its people.  It is worth the extra time, coaching and communication required to aid in reducing bullying for your child.  They are counting on you.  If you need additional help, or if your child is being bullied, please contact us.  https://bullyingrecoveryresourcecenter.org   No child ever deserves to be bullied.

“Do not fear people with autism, embrace them.  Do not spite people with autism, unite them. 
Do not deny people with autism, accept them, for their abilities will shine.”

-Paul Isaacs, Autism Training, Consultant, Speaker and Author

 

 

The Do-Nothing Principal

The Do-Nothing Principal

The Do-Nothing Principal

Adapted from Dr. Ben Leichtling, PhD
www.BulliesBeGone.com

When my son was in sixth and seventh grade, he was relentlessly bullied.  He was verbally, physically and relationally bullied.  The short version of our experience is that his dad and I reported the bullying many times.  We were met with false promises, excuses, ignorance and rationalizations from the leaders of the school and the school counselor.  We ended up filing a lawsuit, pulled him from school, invested in mental help for all of us, became bullying experts and started Bullying Recovery Resource Center (BRRC) for families who were going through similar traumas caused by bullying in all parts of Colorado and beyond.

We came across Dr. Ben’s YouTube talk about the do-nothing principals shortly after we opened the doors of BRRC in 2017.  As I listened to his list of the five traits he identified, I quickly put a check mark next to every one of them.  I was astounded and vindicated at the same time.  I was not crazy and had been played by the school officials at my son’s former school. BRRC has found this list to be incredibly helpful for parents who are dealing with reluctant school administrators.  What follows are Dr. Ben’s five warning signs of the do-nothing-principal.

  1. No school-wide programs – There is no school-wide training about bullying for children, parents, teachers, administrators, janitors, bus drivers, etc. All persons associated with the school should be taught to recognize the signs of overt and covert bullies.  Without a school wide program, it is obvious that the school officials do not take bullying seriously.
  2. Make no effort to monitor or investigate – Most everyone knows what areas bullying occurs at their school. School officials will make no effort to monitor those areas.  They will plead ignorance and expect “proof” to come from the target of bullying.  School officials will refuse to investigate bullying claims.
  3. Empathy and compassion for the bullies – School administrators will believe that the best way to stop bullying is for the target show forgiveness, compassion and empathy for the bully. The focus turns to why the bully harasses their target versus stopping the bullying.  These principals favor education and compassion over making the bully stop.
  4. Blame the target – Principals will assume that the target did something wrong to antagonize a bully. They will often not keep the bullying complaints confidential and/or look the other way than to stop the bully.
  5. Use confidentiality to keep you in the dark – To mask incompetence, bias or laziness, school administrators will use confidentiality to avoid transparency and accountability. Many times, they will ask you to trust them while they handle the situation.

If this list pertains to you and your situation, Dr. Ben states that it is time to act.  It is time to force reluctant principals to act properly.  These actions or lack of actions are unacceptable and will only cause more trauma for you child.  Make note that a school fears two things above all else – negative media and legal action.  He suggests four steps that you as a parent need to take to force a school to stop bullying.

  1. Before the bullying even begins, lobby with other like-minded parents to insist that the school provide school-wide programs to prevent bullying. Strongly consider contacting the media about your efforts.
  2. If bullying starts talk to the principal and the staff. Record all conversations.  Pay special attention to the attitude of the school officials and look for ignorance, rationalizations, excuses, and a discussion of what constitutes evidence.  Follow-up all conversations with an email of all the points discussed and any promises that were made.
  3. Give the administration, counselors and teachers one week or so to stop the bullying. Take notice if they accommodate your child (the target) or if they disrupt your child’s schedule and location as a solution.
  4. If the bullying has not stopped it is time to take action. Consider contacting parents of other bullied children, contacting the police, asking for legal help, contacting the media and look for coaching.

Taking action is not easy and will requires firmness, courage, determination and being relentless.  The journey going forward will be frustrating and exhausting.  Realize that every situation is different and will require strategies that work best for your family.  Coaches and organizations like Bullies Be Gone and Bullying Recovery Resource Center are available to help you work through options and strategies that are best your child.