What is bullying? At first glance, many people might think this behavior is easy to define. Their first image of bullying might be of a physically intimidating boy beating up a smaller classmate. While that can still be considered bullying today, parents need to know that bullying behaviors can be much more complex and varied than the stereotype.
For example, harmful bullying can also occur quietly and covertly, through gossip or on the Internet, causing emotional damage.
As a starting point let’s consider a few other features that have been included in definitions of bullying. Although definitions vary from source to source, most agree that an act is defined as bullying when:
• The behavior hurts or harms another person physically or emotionally.
• The targets have difficulty stopping the behavior directed at them, and struggle to defend themselves.
• Many definitions include a statement about the ”imbalance of power”, described as when the student with the bullying behavior has more “power”, either physically, socially, or emotionally, such as a higher social status, is physically larger or emotionally intimidating.
Many definitions also include:
• The types of Bullying: The behavior can be overt, with physical behaviors, such as fighting, hitting or name calling, or it can be covert, with emotional-social interactions, such as gossiping or leaving someone out on purpose.
• Intent of the part of the student with bullying behavior: “It is intentional, meaning the act is done willfully, knowingly, and with deliberation to hurt or harm,” but there is some controversy with this statement as some assert that not all bullying behavior is done with intent or that the individual bullying realizes that their behavior is hurting another individual.
• Distinction about amount and duration: Many definitions indicate that the bullying is “repeated”, but the reality is that bullying can be circumstantial or chronic. It might be the result of a single situation, such as being the new student at school, or it might be behavior that has been directed at the individual for a long period of time.
• The implications for all students: It is also important to note that bullying is not just about the implications for those targeted by the behaviors, but that the behavior can impact all students in the school, including those who witness the behavior and those that engage in the behavior.
• Additional factors: these can include; the differentiation between bullying and harassment, enumeration of protected classes, statements around the use of technology, how the behavior impacts educational performance and the physical locations that would fall under the jurisdiction of school sanctions.
A basic guideline for your child is this: Let the child know that if the behavior of another student hurts or harms them, either emotionally or physically, it’s bullying.
Action Steps to Take If Your Child is Being Bullied At School
It is important that parents approach this situation in a calm manner and that parents keep records of facts in the situation. It is helpful if parents and school staff work together to resolve the issue. Parents can use the following steps to resolve the issue.
Work With Your Child
Thank your child for telling you. Tell your child that the bullying is not his or her fault. Talk with your child about the specifics of the situation and ask:
• Who is doing the bullying?
• What happened? Was it
Cyberbullying? (Meet directly with the principal if this is the case.)
• What days and times were you bullied?
• Where did the bullying take place?
Also find out how your child responded to the bullying and if other children or adults might have observed the bullying. Does your child know the names of these people?
Keep a written record of this information.
Practice possible ways for your child to respond to bullying. PACER.org offers a “Student Action Plan” that walk through potential action steps.
Tell a school staff (teacher, principal, other staff).
Go to step two if needed.
Work with the School
Meet with your child’s teacher:
• Discuss what is happening to your child using information from Step One.
• Ask what can be done so your child feels safe at school.
Keep a written record of what happened at this meeting, including names and dates.
Meet with the principal
• Share information from Step One.
• Mention your work with your child regarding the situation.
Share the outcome of your meeting with the teacher.
• Mention how the situation is impacting your child
Ask if school has a written policy on bullying and harassment. If so, ask for a written copy.
Ask what the school can do to keep your child safe at school, on school bus, etc.
If it is necessary to work with the District Administration, go to PACER.org to tips on writing a letter or email.
Source: Pacer.org. For more tips and information on bullying, visit PACER.org.