It started slowly for my daughter. A mean glare here, and an unkind word said there. She wasn’t even sure what was really happening. Over time, however, she started changing into a different child before my eyes. Her appetite decreased, she lashed out easier, and seemed to drag her feet when it came time to go to school. I knew as a mom, something was wrong.
I worked harder to open dialogue between us, and just get her to talk to me. About anything really. To slowly build her trust and let her know home was a safe place to share what happened in her day. It worked. Slowly I was let into her world, she shared more and more, and things began to improve. I also took on a new appreciation for what our kids face on a daily basis at school. That was when she let me know a student had threatened her life.
In the wake of Sandy Hook and Columbine, words like this carry great weight. It causes me to question how we have changed our response to situations like this, to prevent tragedies like that from happening. I heard an author and education psychologist say it best, “It’s not bullies that participate in school shootings, it’s victims.” Children who have suffered from long periods of bullying without relief or a resolution. What are we doing to help our victims, and reteach our bullies?
Whether your child faces relational aggression, physical aggression, verbal aggression or cyber bullying, what can we as parents do to help our children?
The first logical step is to of course talk with your child, get their perspective, and then report any incident to your school faculty. But who do you contact first? The teacher or the principal? Do you involve police? Or the district office? What do you say? What if faculty fail to take your child or even you seriously, or worse attempt to lay blame at your child’s feet unjustly? What if your child is given consequences when they are the victim of bullying? What if you feel bullied by faculty? What do you do? Where do you even begin?
I think this is where a district wide bully response protocol, not just an individual School Safety Plan for each campus in our district, would help parents throughout our community. It would be a way to approach bullying from a proactive position with clear standards, rather than a reactive position with too much room for administration interpretation of what is a suitable response. By the time bullying has occurred, simply reacting to it is not enough. We need to pave the way to make our campuses safe for students to learn and focus on academic performance first and foremost. Eliminating anything that could hinder them along the way. We as parents also need to know that our child will be listened to, taken seriously, and not re-victimized by being needlessly being asked to recount their experience or spoken to in front of their bully about the incident, if and when an incident does occur. This way we can protect and respect all of our children’s psychological well being throughout our community, whether they are being bullied, or are the bully. How we handle each person involved in the incident, is just as vital as the consequences for the bullying.
In my daughter’s case, she reported the threat to her teacher. That was as far as it went though. If I had not gone to the administration myself, the principal may never have known what was happening on her campus. This concerns me as a parent. When a child’s life is threatened, there should be a standard procedure all schools follow, to make sure things are handled well. The end result being providing a safe learning environment for all students where the climate is comfortable and positive. I think we need a clearer district level bully response protocol in place, that also involves all district school administration, guaranteeing that every case is treated quickly, with clear expectations, and clearly communicated steps.
I realize this would take time, and cost money. That our school budgets are already slashed so dramatically. But we as parents work hard for every dollar we earn, and we pay our taxes to fund the schools where we send our children. Our schools should work equally as hard for us. Especially when we entrust them with the care of what matters most to us, the lives of our children. At the end of the day, we have the right to know our child is safe, that if an incident does occur it will be handled seriously, and what our schools are doing to prevent it from happening again in the future. I realize there will never be a guarantee that our children will never be bullied, but changing the way we respond to it, seizing opportunities to teach students empathy and positive behavior to model, and having clear and consistent consequences, we can reduce it. A bully doesn’t have to stay a bully, and a victim doesn’t need to stay a victim. But this only changes if we begin to talk about it more, together, and take action. We have the opportunity to be the change we want to see in the world around us.
Let’s agree to have this conversation as a community. To start considering how we can all get on the same page, and give voice to an issue rippling through our school district. Parents deserve to know their rights, how to feel empowered as they walk through this process with their children, and to feel knowledgable about every single step in that process. The only way to ensure this is with a district wide bully response protocol, clearly defined steps on how to address it, developed guidelines with examples to follow that every school is expected to adhere to, faculty training in this district bully response protocol that is offered annually, with accountability checks by the district office for every schools administration to make sure they follow through. Let’s be the model to the rest of California and beyond, creating a positive school environment on every campus to develop life long learners.
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