It's no secret that the hallways of our high schools today are dangerous places. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, almost 32 percent of 12- to 18-year-old students say they have been bullied at school. Nearly 16 percent were threatened, shoved or tripped and about 4 percent of students report cyberbullying.
Several parents have been contacting me asking, "How do we deal with bullies in our high school?" And I must say, at the beginning, I didn't know quite what to say. I had the opinion that bullying was probably a good way for kids to grow up. After all, bullying doesn't just happen in school. It happens in the workplace. It happens in families. It happens all around us as we grow, and we have to develop mechanisms to handle different situations we face as adults.
And then it happened to my family.
Not long ago, I walked in my son's room and found him unusually melancholy. I asked, "Hey man, what's going on?"
"Dad, I just don't want to go to school anymore."
You can imagine my surprise, as my son was just bragging on all his teachers, his newfound friends and his excitement to be learning new things at school.
"What's up? Why don't you want to go to school? I thought you loved school."
"It's nothing. I just don't want to go."
Parents of teens know this conversation, as I can imagine it happens in every teenager's room at some point.
After several back and forth questions, we finally got down to the real issue. Evidently, there were a couple of kids who were constantly making fun of him, calling him names and isolating him from the group making themselves feel in control.
I scheduled a meeting with the teachers, the administration and the school counselor. I wanted to understand how they were handling the bullying situations in their school.
During our conversation, I noticed a few things I think parents should know about bullying that are often overlooked by the mainstream news. Here are a few ideas:
1.) We need to be ready before the bullying begins. As parents, we have a duty to protect our kids and make sure we know when bullying is going on. I understand our culture is full of parents working hard, and that when they come, they need some downtime, too. However, if our downtime comes at the cost of understanding our student's mental or physical health at school, we're not really being parents. We need to identify changes in our kid's attitudes, notice swings in mood for no apparent reason and be ready to engage with our kids about what's going on in their world. We'll hear teenage statements as we probe, but asking deeper questions helps provide a line of communication so we can be ready before bullying takes over.
2.) We need to make a safe place for our kids to talk about things going on. So many parents don't take the time to continue making home a place where kids can unburden their hearts. We're busy. We have our own problems. We are thinking about how to make dinner, or what emails we need to make sure we answer, but remember: We have a responsibility to create this place of safety and security at home. That's part of parenting, and to help our kids know home is a safe place is important.
3.) Look for the signs. Be sure you pay attention to your students overall emotional health. Huge swings in behavior are a standard place in adolescence, but to notice long spells of silence, withdrawal from events they like to do or even tension that defies what is normal in your home can be tell tale signs something is going on at school.
4.) Talk to the authorities. Under extreme situations, we have to engage with teachers, counselors and administrators at the school to make sure they know what's going on. I found a group of school officials who took bullying VERY serious and were incredibly helpful. I made sure they knew I wasn't there to protect my son if he was "egging it on." But I did want them to know what was happening, and we created a communication line, formed a plan and followed up to make sure my son wasn't in any physical danger.
5.) Let your school officials do their job. So many times we think we can run the school better than the local school officials. We've given them the responsibility to teach and train our kids during the week, they need the authority to do their job. A careful relationship of accountability can empower school officials to make sure all the kids at school understand the rules and regulations. If you feel like they're not doing their job, then it merits looking into a change of venue before things escalate.
Nobody wants to wake up to these tragic stories of bullying at our schools. We all want to provide safe places where kids are going to learn, but it's going to take parents, mentors, teachers, coaches and administrators who are willing to take bullying seriously.
What I found out was SUPER interesting. As we uncovered the alleged bullies at my son's school, we found they, too, had been bullied in the past, and they were just acting out what they thought was right behavior.
In order to stop the bullying pandemic, we've got to focus on the victim AND the bully. Pain is a tough place to recover from, but with as many hands on deck as we can get, we can begin to chip away at this incredible intolerance invading our schools.
So today, be encouraged, be empowered and be full of hope as we lock arms with all our available resources. Don't forget, "It takes a tribe!"