This post is part of “Bully No More,” an editorial series hosted by the Fort Worth Moms Blog.
It was the first week of seventh grade. I was sitting in the locker room waiting to go to my next class when suddenly from behind two of our star football players grabbed me, while one of them placed a knife to my throat. I could feel the sting as the sharp blade slowly pierced my skin, leaving me with what looked like a big paper cut. This was but the beginning of the degrading humiliation I would experience that terrible morning. Once they knew they had me restrained, they forced me to the locker of every member of our football team and demanded me to say, “Sorry I’m such a wimp, Mr. _________.” I succumbed to this at least a dozen times during that terrifying 10 minutes of my life. My friends, who in that moment I was referring to as “Mr. ________” silently watched the shocking scene unfold, and not a single person attempted to intervene.
That morning changed me. Debating whether or not to stay silent, I found the courage to speak. This made all the difference. As a result, appropriate action was taken, and the issue was immediately resolved.
Become Aware of the Warning Signs
Children who are being bullied experience profound shame. This is one reason why so many children who are bullied never report their experiences to adults. It is important for parents to develop awareness of the signs that a child may be experiencing harmful interaction at the hands of another. Here are five questions to consider:
- Does your child exhibit a sudden aversion to attending school?
- Is your child becoming more agitated or irritable with you? Is he or she responding to you in anger?
- Are you noticing an acute decline in your child’s academic performance?
- Is your child having difficulty sleeping?
- Does your child seem anxious or depressed?
While the etiology (i.e., underlying cause) of such symptoms may not necessarily be attributed to your child being bullied at school, they are definite markers for children who are being victimized by their peers.
Listen for Cues of Any Warning Signs Present
Keep in mind that your child may be quite resistant to report any violence or unwanted taunting to you. This is certainly the case as your child matures. If you are noticing any of the warning signs listed above, do not hesitate to move toward your child by asking questions of genuine interest. Being victimized by a peer creates an enormous amount of confusion for a child since it strikes at the very core of his or her identity. The fear of social ostracism for outing a fellow student could prove to be a powerful variable in a child’s resolve to remain silent. This is the case even if there is an inner longing to share the struggle with someone else. Checking in with a child about how things are going with friends and schoolmates should be a common conversation between parents and their children. If your child is young, seek to make this a normal part of your relationship with him or her so that the child will come to know that such conversation is good and normal. Waiting until something terrible happens to your child and then trying to build this type of communication into the relational dynamic could prove to be a difficult and frustrating experience for both parent and child alike. Start talking early.
Seek Help: Parents, Teachers, Peers
Research has strongly indicated that children who are being bullied fare best when teachers, parents, and peers step in and support them. Telling a child to fight back or resist the person who is bullying has not been shown as an effective response to bullying. In many cases, such an approach could actually exacerbate a child’s psychological stress in that he or she may not possess the confidence or even the physical capacity to “take up” for him or herself. When bullying is reported it is imperative that parents and teachers take the issue seriously and seek to intervene appropriately. Peer intervention and support is also extremely helpful. This was the case in my situation. I was tempted to say nothing, but upon sharing the incident with two of my cousins, they accompanied me while I shared what happened to me with my parents. This started a healthy process in which proper school authorities were notified, and the issue was handled effectively and promptly.
Simply Love Your Child
While that may sound like an obvious point, it could be so obvious that it becomes lost in the strain of facing the myriad of stressors associated with bullying. Parents can feel so helpless in these circumstances that they may unintentionally resort to putting so much energy into fixing the problem at school that the value of old-fashioned, tender care at home is lost. As parents, we cannot ultimately control the environments into which we send our children, but one area over which we do maintain control is in the realm of building a safe, nurturing, stable, and supportive home environment for those we most cherish — our children. Let us seek to excel in that arena so that we most effectively prepare them for the rough and tumble realities of life that they will at some point inevitably face.
Jeremy Lelek serves as president and founder of Metroplex Counseling, a local counseling agency with six locations in DFW, including Fort Worth, Bedford, South Lake, Keller, McKinney, and Richardson. Dr. Lelek earned his Ph.D. in Counseling Education and Supervision, an M.A. in Counseling, and a B.A. in Adolescent Psychology. He has been a licensed professional counselor since 2003. He and his wife, Lynne, reside in Fort Worth with their four children.