For the past eight years, I’ve been traveling the nation’s schools, sharing my message with thousands of students, teachers, and parents that it’s not just joking around, that when kids tease and reject one another, they are damaging each other for life. I know firsthand because from fifth grade through the end of high school I was tormented by my peers, as so many other kids are today, simply for being “different.”
You would think after speaking at so many schools, they would all seem alike to me. Truthfully, some do. And then, there are those that stand out as remarkable examples of what can be done in the fight against bullying when the adults in the school are courageous and unrelenting in their efforts. The principals at these schools are open and honest with faculty and students, encourage the same healthy communication in return, and are dedicated not only to intervention, but consistent follow-up, something still sadly lacking in too many educational environments.
Schools are stepping up to the plate, but no educator can or should replace the role of parent. If we’re to win this war on school bullying, I urge each and every parent reading this column to take stock at home. Is your child a possible victim of bullying? Or are they themselves a bully? When the lights are turned off at night, is your child sleeping, or are they lying awake in the dark, dreading school the next day because they know they will face hurt and rejection the moment they walk through those big glass doors? Do you know the names of the students your child admires, and those they don’t and why? Is your child happy or simply putting on a happy face for you?
Schools reach out to me for solutions to these questions every day. Now I am reaching out to all of you who are parents:
- Pay attention to your child’s mood. Don’t just relegate grumpiness to back to school blues; it could be fear masquerading as irritability.
- It’s the beginning of the school year. Get involved now before problems start, not after they’ve begun.
- Establish a rapport with your child’s guidance counselor.
- Don’t be afraid to ask your child specific questions, and learn to listen patiently and without judgment.
- Get to know the parents of your child’s friends and establish an open line of communication and support.
- Encourage your child to embrace the new students at school. It’s an easy way to make new friends.
As parents, we are often overwhelmed by the responsibilities of daily life. Sometimes we are tired and irritable when we get home from work, and the thought of going one more place, doing one more thing is just too much. Let me just say this. Our own emotions, and most especially, logistics, should never get in the way of being present to, and helping our children.
I’m often asked what my own mom and dad did during my lonely school years that helped. It was something so remarkably simple, but it saved my life, and it could save your child’s life too.
For most bullied students, whether it’s the child who’s overtly abused or the one who’s ignored and excluded day after day, it’s the relentless loneliness that is often hardest to bear. While all the other kids from school are hanging out together, going to parties and having fun, you’re sitting at home, aching to be a part of it, waiting for invitations that never come. I remember those dark moments well, and if your child is experiencing a similar sense of isolation, you need to understand that every child needs friends and a social life, and this is doubly true for bullied kids. If school doesn’t yield this companionship, seek an interim social life for your child, somewhere he or she can participate with other peers in an activity they enjoy.
Believe it or not, local park districts and libraries are wonderful outlets and can be a lifeline for lonely teens. Reach out to the park district and local library the nearest next town over from where you live that doesn’t feed into your child’s school, and ask them to email or fax you their list of organized activities for kids. They often will have everything from soccer and cheerleading, to dance, computer clubs, and Reader’s Theater, among other options that your child can participate in. My mom enrolled me in a youth community theater program where I finally found other kids my own age that I fit in with.
It’s vital, however, that you go one town over, because if a child is being bullied at school and engages in a park district activity with those same classmates, it defeats the purpose, which is to provide the experience of a fresh start with new faces. You can achieve two objectives by enrolling your child in a park district or library activity: on the days school feels especially lonely, your child has something to look forward to; additionally, this new social outlet will likely boost his confidence, and the more confident he is, the less of a target he will be at school. This will also buy you the necessary time to address any bullying issues with the school.
One of the biggest mistakes parents make is that they become so immersed in trying to deal with the school once they discover there’s a problem, which they forget to tend to their bleeding child first. And make no mistake. The bullied child is bleeding, but they’re bleeding in the form of loneliness. You can stop that bleeding by finding your child a source for friendship, but you must act swiftly, definitively, and follow up. Don’t just print out the brochures from the park district and leave them on a table. Show them to your child, choose an activity together, then pick up the phone, and make it happen.
© 2010 Jodee Blanco, author of Please Stop Laughing at Me … One Woman’s Inspirational Story
By Jodee Blanco f or Not Just the Kitchen