There is no doubt that we have a bullying problem in our schools. Nearly half of all students report having experienced bullying behavior. This can take the form of verbal abuse, physical abuse and increasingly, we are seeing the devastating consequences of cyber bullying.
Cyber bullying is defined as any type of online social cruelty. Unlike traditional bullying that today's parents may have experienced, cyber bullying does not end at 3:00. The mean, vulgar, or threatening images and messages are quite literally with the young victim 24/7. Cyber bullying also results in unbearable humiliation because the victim knows that thousands of people may be viewing the hateful messages.
As a parent, it is critically important that we let our children know that they can come to us for help. It is equally important that we know exactly how to respond so that we don't make the situation worse.
It is never a good idea to ignore a child's complaint about bullying. We have, thankfully, come light years from the attitude that "kids will be kids." Children are often unable to deal with this issue on their own. Similarly, we should never tell our children to "fight back." This will escalate the problem and will likely result in disciplinary action against your child that will remain on his or her permanent record. Lastly, we need to resist the temptation to react angrily and reach out directly to the parents of the alleged aggressors. A positive outcome is not likely to ensue.
The first thing that a parent should do is get the full and complete story from your child. Take notes while the events are still fresh in the child's mind. Did anyone witness the events? Take pictures of any broken or damaged property. If physical violence was used, I would immediately file a police report.
Next, a parent should request a copy of the school's bullying prevention and reporting policy. All schools are required by law to have set procedures for dealing with this issue. A written report should then be submitted to the principal and teacher. The school is then required by law to investigate the matter and take steps reasonably calculated to resolve the issue. You may wish to request daily e-mail reports of the progress.
If after a week or so, you are unsatisfied with the action taken by the school and if the problem persists, legal action should then be considered. The cause of action that you should discuss with legal counsel is "Supervisory Negligence." Courts have come a long way from dismissing these cases for fear of "policing the schoolyard.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has a helpful website: stopbullying.gov
Ann Margaret Carrozza is a practicing attorney who also served as a New York State Assemblywoman. She is a regular legal contributor to TV and print media outlets. www.myelderlawattorney.com