Thirteen-year-old Devin Brown was not enjoying his new school. He had been jumped and had peanut butter spread on him. Devin had also reported a classmate threatening a teacher with a knife, and was called “a snitch” by other students, his dad told the TV reporter. Later that day, the bright-eyed boy who had just moved to Georgia and loved martial arts, took his own life by hanging himself.
Yet the story of kids who suffer anguish when being bullied is not uncommon. And even sadder, the stories of children who take their own lives because they aren’t getting the help they need — such as 15-year-old Bartlomiej “Bart” Palosz of Greenwich, Conn., and 12-year-old Rebecca Ann Sedwick, of Lakeland, Fla.—are seemingly more and more frequent. Nearly one-third of all school-aged children are bullied each year—approximately 13 million students, according to PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Council (NBPC). What’s more, 64 percent of children who were bullied didn’t report it.
So what can you as a parent do to help your child when you learn he’s being—or has been—bullied?
“The most important tip is developing a strategy,” says Julie Hertzog, director of the NBPC.
Jane Riese, director of training of the OLWEUS Bullying Prevention Program at the Institute of Family and Neighborhood Life at Clemson University, offers these 11 steps for your strategy:
1. Talk with your child. Ask important questions about school and the bus. Find out where the incident took place and who may have witnessed it.
2. Listen carefully. Get as much as information as possible regarding the incident(s) and the bully.
3. Be supportive. Don’t tell the child to ignore it, retaliate or laugh it off. Don’t expect them to work it out by themselves, and don’t ask what they did to bring it on themselves. “This could be hurtful and shut down communication,” says Riese. Reinforce the fact that bullying is wrong, and tell them that you’re proud of them for speaking up.
4. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. If you plan to move ahead on the information, don’t promise you “won’t tell anyone.” If your child begs you to not talk, be honest. Say, “We parents have agreed to be part of keeping kids safe.”
5. Reel in your emotions. Rather than reacting quickly and emotionally, take the time needed to calm down and think about what to do next.
6. Share your concerns. Talk with your child’s teacher(s), counselor and/or school administrator. Approach the school staff in a positive manner. Expect respect and assume they care. Expect them to take it seriously.
7. Educate yourself. Know and understand your school’s policies on bullying so that you can ensure that everything the school says they will do is truly being done.
8. Be formal. Write a letter to the school principal or superintendent. Templates can be found online.
9. Document everything. Keep a log or journal not only of incidents, but of follow-up discussion you have, including requests for meetings with school staff.
10. Take your case to a higher power if needed. Alert the authorities and get law enforcement’s help when a weapon is involved; there is sexual abuse, serious bodily harm or hate-motivated violence; or there are threats of serious physical injury or illegal acts like robbery or extortion. Learn your state’s anti-bullying laws, and research federal laws on civil rights through the Department of Education.
11. Meet medical and mental health needs. Seek care for your child when needed, be it from your family pediatrician, psychologist or trusted counselor.
To find more help on how to prevent bullying or help a child who is being bullied, visit the following helpful websites: