We get frequent emails from parents in distress, trying to guide their child through severe bullying at school. When a parent worries that their child is in real or imminent danger of physical or emotional abuse, the time to act is NOW! We’ve had a lot of these requests, where the situation is potentially volatile. With one-on-one communications with the concerned parents, we feel that the problem is urgent enough and, unfortunately, common enough that we wanted to share some of these letters, while protecting parents’ privacy, in the hopes that everyone can learn some of the early warning signs and action choices.
While a blog post is certainly not a substitute for the guidance of an onsite expert, we feel that the danger of doing nothing while hoping for the situation to resolve itself, can keep kids in a dangerous situation without the benefit of sufficient adult protection. Here’s some advice on what to do if you find yourself, your kids, or your kids’ friends in this situation.
Here’s a letter I received recently from a worried parent:
“My daughter has been slammed into bus windows and punched in the face by a boy who is 10, she is 7. This is all on tape. We talked to the principal who said he would talk to the boy’s mom. That’s all that’s been done. The principal said he could suspend him from the bus for a few days, but will not be handling it that way. This has been going on since the fall. How can the district do nothing? What can I do to make sure something gets done? This boy should be held accountable for his actions and my daughter should not be someone’s punching bag. What’s your advice?”
I read your message with great concern. You or your step-daughter should be able to ask the school for help and protection, long before it gets to the stage where your daughter’s head is being slammed against a glass window with no peers or adults stepping in to help. In some states, that meets the definition of assault. So why is the school not jumping all over this? Your child is in imminent danger – in an environment where the adults aren’t paying attention, kids get the message that “anything goes” and there will be no consequences.
If you feel you have given the school adequate indication of a problem (and it sounds like you have given them more than enough, with video evidence available), and even if there wasn’t video evidence available, the school should be stepping in to make sure your daughter is safe, and amends and apologies made by the aggressor and any peer collaborators.
So if the school is doing nothing or not enough to ensure your daughter’s safety, you really have only one choice – remove your daughter from the school. Kids need to know that adults will take care of them, and adults need to step up and take action. Move everything to get your kids out of a situation like this. This is NOT the correct answer, but it is the expedient one and the one that safeguards your child’s physical safety and her mental health. The correct answer is that the school should move to eradicate bullying, whenever and wherever it appears, but the reality is that it can takes months, or years, and kids can suffer enormously while adults waffle.
You can get a lawyer, and go up a level and get the school board involved, if you’ve been unable to get action at the school level from the teachers and principal. You may be able to sue the school, but these “solutions” don’t solve the problem. At best, it will take months to “fix” the problem this way. I hold a dim view of schools that do not jump to attention when there’s a suspicion of a problem. Coercing them into helping your child often brings a lukewarm, while technically legal, response. The damage has been done. Your job is to keep more damage from occurring.
The longer you keep your child in an environment like this, the higher the chance for long-term or permanent psychological and physiological damage that can affect their entire lives. I wrote an article recently about new research showing that bullying causes brain damage. The brains of bullied kids look resemble the brain damage seen in abused and neglected children. I’m now getting letters from adults in mid-life saying “Oh my gosh, I’m sure that’s what happened to me. I’ve had problems my whole life, and I never realized this could be the cause.”
In addition to the direct damage done to kids, parents also end up bearing a huge and often frightening burden, having to deal with angry, scared, dysfunctional kids, teens, and young adults acting out at school and home for years in the aftermath of situations like this. School avoidance, drugs, alcohol, cutting, and suicide attempts are some of the many ways these kids externalize their scared and violated feelings. Protect your kids by changing the environment or removing them from this toxicity.
If you have not been able to fix this problem immediately (3 months max), the best advice I can give you is to get your kids out. If you cannot find another nearby school, home school your kids with other parents. Find a tutor or teacher who can help you start a home school. Split the cost between 10 or 20 concerned families.
Sadly, you are not the first parent to bring this kind of situation to my attention. Obviously, being far removed from the situation, I can only serve as a background coach for you, highlighting your options and emphasizing the risks of delaying action. Please don’t underestimate the risk.
Coming Up: What If The Bully Is The Principal?
Photo credit: istockphoto.com