Does Your Child’s School Take Bullying Seriously?

Does Your Child’s School Take Bullying Seriously?

Look for the three P’s

“Prepare and prevent, don’t repair and repent.” – author unknown

There are several pieces of information that I share immediately with almost any parent who contacts BRRC.  One of my recommendations is that parents read the student handbook cover to cover and pay special attention to information regarding harassment and bullying. A treasure trove of information is contained in those pages as well as what is missing from the handbook.  A school that takes bullying seriously will lean on a community-based approach in regard to bullying and will include policies, procedures and programs embedded in the school culture and curriculum.

Three important pieces need to be present at your child’s school in relation to bullying.  The three P’s are: Anti-Bullying Policy, Procedures and Programs.  The following information is adapted from Barbara Coloroso’s book, “The Bully, The Bullied and the Not so Innocent Bystander.”  The descriptions of the three Ps follow, and why they are so darn important to you, your child, and your child’s school.

Anti-Bullying Policy:
Having a bullying policy is absolutely necessary.  It must have depth and not simply an inspirational saying or a “we don’t tolerate bullying” statement.  The policy must be clearly articulated, consistently enforced and broadly communicated.  The entire staff, (custodians, teachers, receptionists, administrations, etc.), should have a clear understanding of the anti-bullying policy.  It must include a clear definition of bullying, the ways bullying occurs and an understanding of the impact of bullying on the school environment.  The policy should include a statement of responsibility of those who are witnesses to bullying incidents and try to stop it by intervening, helping the targeted student escape and a way to make it safe to tell a caring adult.

In my opinion, this is where the rubber meets the road.  Having a written policy has absolutely no teeth unless there are specific procedures in place to deal with bullying.  As with so much in life, the procedures to deal with school bullying should have some latitude and common sense in play.  A one size fits all approach is not optimal and lacks common sense.

Consequences for the bully and any active bystanders who played a role in the bullying event should be clearly outlined.  Procedures should include measures that hold the perpetrators accountable for their actions.  Ideally, some form of restorative justice is ideal that involves restitution, resolution, and if possible, an attempt at reconciliation (only if the targeted student is agreeable to that). Lastly, the parents or guardians of the bully need to be notified of the bullying and asked to take measures at home to aid in the restorative justice process.

Procedures also need to include what measures will be taken to keep targeted students safe at school.  These procedures should include tools to aid them in standing up to the perpetrators, offering support, and tools to effectively deal with any new bullying situations they may face.  Safe, caring and trustworthy adults at school should be identified to whom they can safely report any further bullying to.  You, as a parent or guardian should be told of this plan and offered the appropriate protocol to follow up and also to report any further targeting of your child.  A school that takes action, comes up with an appropriate plan to end the bullying, and follows up with you and your child is a school that takes bullying seriously.

An appropriate program for a school that takes bullying seriously is one that back’s up and reinforces the anti-bullying policy and works to create a safe, caring, and welcoming environment for all students.

A program that will have the greatest success is one that is embedded in the curriculum and culture of the school.  The once a year anti-bullying rally, or posters that claim this is a “no-bully zone” that does not reinforce those ideals the entire school year will not succeed.  Bullying and becoming an upstander can be taught through literature and character education lessons.  Empathy and feelings can be part of writing assignments.  Some schools offer mentorship programs to aid students new to a school or new to a grade, so they have a companion to turn to.  A “no one sits alone” lunch policy will curb bullying behavior and create a caring environment.  There are many creative ideas that the staff and students can come up with to create a culture of inclusivity and caring.

Every member of the school staff needs to be properly trained in bullying.  They need to know what bullying is and what it isn’t. They need to know the definition of bullying and what measures they should take when they witness it or when it is reported to them.   Conflict-resolution tactics will not work with bullying and can cause even greater harm. It is the adult’s job to STOP bullying.  Finally, there should be a standard way communicated to all the school’s stakeholders of how to report bullying, and what the target and their caregivers can expect with the school following up with them.

Vigilance and knowledge are key.  Here are some questions you may want to ask your child’s school:

  • What is your school’s definition of bullying?
  • How does bullying get reported at your school?
  • What is the best way to report bullying?
  • How quickly does the school respond after bullying has been reported?
  • If a child has been found to be a perpetrator of bullying, what kinds of consequences can he or she be subject to?
  • What types of programs does the school offer to teach the students about bullying?
  • How is bullying taught/discussed in the classroom? How often?
  • How long are your school employees trained about bullying? Is there a special program they participate in?

And, my personal favorite question:

  • Does bullying happen at this school?

If the answer is “no”, you may need to pull up a chair and prepare for a long conversation with the school employee.  Unfortunately, bullying happens at every school and the real key is how effectively and quickly it is dealt with.  If a school has proper policies, procedures and programs in place, and adheres to those, the bullying can be stopped, and the target can be properly cared for.

Bullying Recovery Resource Center can also help you navigate the bullying your child is enduring.  We provide education, materials and advocacy services to help stop bullying.  If you have any questions, or if your child’s school fails to stop the bullying of your child, we are here to help.

Covid-19 and Cyberbullying

Covid-19 and Cyberbullying

As an Executive Director for a bullying advocacy and recovery charity, I have read article after article about the increase in cyberbullying.  As our children switched their schooling to exclusively online learning, the bullying left the schoolyards and became more rampant on their screens.  With autumn approaching and much uncertainty about schooling as our country is still weathering the pandemic, cyberbullying needs to be addressed.

Cyberbullying is defined as: “willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices.”  It can include name calling, abusive comments, spreading rumors, threats of physical harm, being ignored or excluded, having opinions slammed, online impersonation, being sent rude or upsetting images, or having personal information or images sent or shared with others.  This type of bullying does not have a time out.  It does not end when the school day is complete and furthermore, the impacts can be devastating.

Any bullying by its very nature involves two things: intent of harm and an imbalance of power.  Cyberbullying is not limited to just our children.  Open up almost any social media platform, blog or news article and there is a litany of responses from adults.  Opinions shared by adults are quite often abusive, demeaning and unkind.  How can we expect more from our children?  Social media is not the problem, it lies in human behavior and acceptable communication.

According to the Cyberbullying Research Center, almost 40% of all middle-school and high-school students have experienced cyberbullying.  Currently, 95% of US teens are online.  Taking cyberbullying seriously has been an uphill battle when compared to traditional bullying.  Some people feel that there are more serious acts of aggression and bullying to focus attention on.  Cyberbullying if ignored will only get worse. The fact is that cyberbullying can be just as or more devastating for the target for the following reasons:

  • The victim may not know who is targeting them or why
  • The information may go viral where a large number of people can see and participate in it very quickly
  • It is often easier for the aggressor to be more cruel hiding behind technology
  • Many adults don’t have the technological know-how or time to accurately keep track of their child’s online activity

So, parents, what can we do if we learn that our child is a target of a cyberbully?  The first and most important thing we can do for a child who is a target of any bullying is to make them feel safe and offer unconditional support.  It is important to not be dismissive and to validate their feelings and perspective.  A rational, logical approach with your child is imperative and will build trust as you talk about next steps together.  Meeting with the school administrator (if applicable) is a logical next step.  Capturing any evidence either by screen shots, photos or working with an ISP, cell phone service or content provider may also become necessary.  The police should be contacted when physical threats are involved or a crime has been committed (extortion, stalking, blackmail or sexual exploitation). Parents need to educate their kids about appropriate online behaviors and monitor online activity especially when children are starting their journey into the cyberworld.

Sometimes children are embarrassed or ashamed they are targeted on social media or in texts.  They are often very reluctant to tell a parent or an adult of their dilemma.  Signs that they may be cyberbullied can include:

  • Unexpectantly stops using their device(s)
  • Appears nervous or jumpy when using a screen device
  • Is uneasy about being at school or outside
  • They are angry, depressed or frustrated after texting, chatting, using social media or gaming
  • Are abnormally withdrawn
  • Avoid discussions about their online activities

Children can also be coached to not be a bystander to cyberbullying whether they or someone else is the target.  Many times, someone does not want to get involved due to the hassle it can cause or fear that they may be retaliated against.  Doing nothing and being a bystander actually passively encourages the aggressor and their behavior.  Standing up to the cyberbully, calling the situation what it is, offering the target encouragement, collecting evidence and reporting the incident can stop the behavior in its tracks.  Even just one of these acts sends the message that this behavior will not be accepted.

Lastly, when working with and reporting to a child’s school about cyberbullying, there are things that should be apparent:

  • There should be a school-wide cyberbullying policy that includes specific disciplinary policies when there is an infraction
  • A positive school climate that encourages kindness and respect has been shown to be a deterrent to bullying and aggressive behavior
  • Schools should include education about responsible use of digital devices as part of their regular curriculum


Slow Your Roll – Minimizing Rumors and Gossip

Slow Your Roll – Minimizing Rumors and Gossip

Gossip and rumors are forms of bullying and fall under the category of relational bullying.  In my opinion, this type of bullying can become the most devastating of all.  It is the most difficult to prove and detect and can leave damage that can last much longer than physical bullying.  Gossip and rumors are mean-spirited, can be used in retaliation and are a negative form of communication.  According to the dictionary they include “doubtful truth” and “typically involves details that are not confirmed as being true.”

“Gossiping and lying go hand in hand.” – Proverb

Minimizing rumors and gossip can be an incredibly valuable skill for kids especially during middle school when this behavior peaks. The strategies discussed below should be followed in order for them to be most effective.  The following is adapted from the PEERS® social skills training intervention program curriculum.

Don’t try to disprove the rumor

This can be quite difficult as our natural instinct is to deny a rumor about ourselves.  Disproving or arguing about the rumor could actually start a new rumor about us being upset.

Don’t appear upset

This again can be quite difficult as it is logical that we would be upset and that emotion could add fuel to rumor.

Don’t confront the person spreading the gossip

Once again, confronting the person starting the rumor could cause more damage and enable them to feel justified to spread even more rumors.

Avoid the person spreading the gossip

Being around the person spreading the gossip can start additional rumors of how you couldn’t look them in the eye or how you gave them the evil eye.

Act amazed anyone cares or believes the gossip

Your peers are watching to see your reaction.  Let them know you really don’t care whether the gossip is true or not.

If it is true, you could say:

  • Why would anyone care about that?”
  • “People need to get a life!”

If it is not true, you could say:

  • “Who would believe that?”
  • “People are so gullible.”

Spread the rumor about yourself

This requires you to be proactive and not wait for your peers to ask you about the rumor.  This requires three steps:

Acknowledge the rumor exists

  • “Have you heard this about me?”

Discredit and make fun of the rumor

  • “How lame!”
  •  “How stupid is that one?”

Act amazed anyone would believe or care about the rumor

  • “Can you believe anyone cares about that?”
  •  “People need to seriously get a life and find something else to talk about.”
  • “It’s amazing what some people will believe.”


Practicing these steps can help a teen navigate and minimize the effects of rumors and gossip.  For more information about PEERS® and their evidence-based social skills programs and bootcamps, go to their website.


“Not Cool!” And Other Tools to Stop a Bully in Their Tracks

“Not Cool!” And Other Tools to Stop a Bully in Their Tracks

Standing up to a bully and being an upstander for others can be downright terrifying for children.  It takes tremendous courage, timing and very likely practice to be effective.  In the heat of the moment it could be incredibly helpful to be armed with a few phrases to quickly grab and use against the tormentor.

Bullying stops in less than 10 seconds, 57% of the time when someone intervenes on behalf of the victim.

Signe Whitson is a nationally recognized author and educator on bullying prevention.  Adapted from her STANding up to Bullying, she offers the following phrases for children to use.  These short, to-the-point exclamations inform the aggressor that not only they will not participate in bullying behavior, but they will not be bullied either.  She recommends that children practice a few select phrases that are comfortable and genuine for them to use.  Furthermore, practicing and delivering these phrases should be done in an assertive manner and not through tears or whining.  Assertive phrases are not meant to put down or attack the bully, but rather show a strength of character and/or concern for the target.

  • “Friends don’t treat each other that way.”
  • “I need a friend that will treat me/others kindly.”
  • “Not cool!”
  • “Knock it off!”
  • “Cut it out!”
  • “Stop it!”
  • “I don’t want to be treated that way. / I don’t want you to treat him/her that way.”
  • “I like the way I look. I like the way he/she looks.”
  • “That’s not funny.”
  • “I can take a joke, but what you said was not funny – it was mean.”
  • “Friends don’t do that to friends.”
  • “That’s bullying.”

It is important to coach our children about how to respond to inappropriate behavior from others.  It is never ok for any child to be bullied.  Ultimately, it is up to adults to STOP the bullying. Coaching children with powerful, assertive phrases can build confidence and can be a tool to stop inappropriate and bullying behavior.


Vigilance against Cyberbullying

Vigilance against Cyberbullying

Just because school is suspended and we are all staying at home doesn’t mean that bullying has stopped.  As we move the classroom and the school yard from schools to on-line, we move the bullies there as well.  Now more than ever, we need to monitor our children’s online activities.

Cyberbullying is defined by as:

”Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place over digital devices like cell phones, computers, and tablets. Cyberbullying can occur through SMS, Text, and apps, or online in social media, forums, or gaming where people can view, participate in, or share content. Cyberbullying includes sending, posting, or sharing negative, harmful, false, or mean content about someone else. It can include sharing personal or private information about someone else causing embarrassment or humiliation. Some cyberbullying crosses the line into unlawful or criminal behavior.”

Oversight should not slow down as more and more conversations are moving to texting and social media platforms like Snapchat, Instagram, and Tik Tok.  Further, as parents, we must be concerned that our children are on new apps like Google Hangout and/or Zoom.  Some schools are delivering content over these platforms which means that our children could be recorded for the entire school day by a potential bully in their class.  Schools, parents and children need to learn that the technology has a block video screen and a mute button, so they can protect themselves from having potentially embarrassing content recorded.  Further, schools should understand the potential FERPA violations as students are constantly on video and can be recorded.

In Barbara Coloroso’s Book, The Bully, the Bullied, and the Not-So-Innocent Bystander, she references “Teens and the Screen Study: Exploring Online Privacy, Social Networking and Cyberbullying” conducted by McAfee, a subsidiary of Intel Security in 2014.  The top five recommendations that study offers about online forums and protecting children are as follows:

  1. Connect with your kids. Casually talk to them about the risks of all online connections and make sure the communication lines are open.
  2. Gain access. Parents should have passwords for their children’s social media accounts and passcodes to their children’s devices to have full access at any given moment.
  3. Learn their Technology. Stay one step ahead and take the time to research the various devices your kids use. You want to know more about their devices than they do.
  4. Get Social. Stay knowledgeable about the newest and latest social networks. [And I would add apps to the list.] You don’t have to create an account but it is important to understand how they work and if your kids are on them. (This would include new platforms like Google Hangout and Zoom)
  5. Reputation Management. Make sure your kids are aware anything they post online doesn’t have an expiration date.  I would also add to explain to your children that they can be filmed or recorded without their knowledge.

COVID 19 has changed our world.  By being proactive, honest and vigilant we can get through this together and safer both in the world and online.