Would you know what to do if your child or someone you knew constantly appeared sad, moody, teary or depressed, and has lost interest or refuses to go to school? These symptoms are not uncommon and could be signs that a student is being bullied. Bullying must no longer be treated as a right of passage for children as they move through the school system. It is too rampant in scope and the harm it causes is too profound to be treated so lightly.
In one way or another all students are impacted by the act of bullying. Children who are bullied are at a greater chance of school failure, dropping out, depression, sleep disorders, suicidal ideations, and committing acts of violence as a means of retaliation. Children who act as the bully also are impacted -- having a greater probability of committing criminal acts later in life, perpetuating family violence and also committing suicide at a greater rate. Bullying even harms the bystanders, leaving them feeling helpless, out of control, intimidated and guilty for not taking action. It is important for everyone to know what to do to protect all children from bullying whether it is taking place in their schools or in their communities.
Working in collaboration with the Child Welfare League of America and others, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers the following tips:
* Open up the lines of communication. Parents need to talk with their children about what is happening in their kids' lives -- both the good and the bad. This is particularly true about their hours in school and whether there is anything troubling about their school experience.
* If you are unsure, check your sources. If you are not certain that what your child is experiencing is bullying, do some research. There are very clearly defined warning signs. Go to StopBullyingNow to see if any of these fit the characteristics of your child.
* Help children take a stand. Empower children to notify an adult at their school if they are experiencing bullying and to stand up for themselves or others if they witness this action happening to their peers. Empowering them may mean standing by their side as they report this behavior to the school.
* Use every moment as a "teachable moment." Educators and school administrators need to use every opportunity to address the topic of bullying in their schools. They should use an incident of bullying as an opportunity to let all involved know that bullying is not acceptable and will not be allowed.
* Help to get your community focused on the problem of bullying. We can all play a pivotal role in developing coalitions designed to tackle this issue, helping to pass clear "codes of conduct" in our schools that address bullying in a proactive way, and targeting bullying early.
* Get a prevention program started in your community. Don't attempt to reinvent the wheel; instead consider one of the many useful programs located on the StopBullyingNow.hrsa.gov Web site. You can access information on step-by-step guides to get a program started where you live. Law enforcement can also be a vital resource in spearheading your efforts.
* Don't think that peer mediation and conflict resolution are the answer. Peer mediation and conflict resolution are not the best ways of dealing with most instances of bullying. These methods can re-traumatize the student who has been bullied and generally are not found to improve the relationship between the parties. Instead, adults should help the child being bullied to regain control of the situation through other means -- providing support and safety from retaliation for the child and any witnesses who report the bullying -- and holding the bully accountable for their actions.
* Create a safe and secure place for children to hang out. Children need a safe haven where they can feel protected from harm and deal with the issues that they are facing. We can all help to provide these places, while at the same time providing after school educational and recreational opportunities.
Bullying is no longer just a school-yard issue. In light of the school shootings in the late 90s and again in recent weeks, bullying is a problem that everyone needs to take personally. There are resources out there that all of us can use. Go to the Department of Health and Human Services Web site www.StopBullyingNow.hrsa.gov to find the tip sheets that parents, peers, kids, administrators, law enforcement, educators and communities can follow to do their part in making a difference in the lives of children who are being bullied. If we do, we may end up saving a child's life.
*Shay Bilchik is President and CEO, Child Welfare League of America