THE FOLLOWING article is the first part of a series highlighting the serious problem of bullying.
When asked to remember their school days, some adults have pleasant memories of parties, football games, proms to die for and lasting friendships. Even if they did have some unpleasant experiences, for most, the good times outweighed the bad.
However, for others, recalling that time in life brings back painful memories of being bullied: endless teasing, namecalling and sometimes much worse. Cases like the suicide earlier this year of David Molak, a student at Alamo Heights, have become more commonplace.
I graduated from Pleasanton High School in 1992 and fortunately, only experienced what I will call mild bullying. There were a couple of girls in my junior high school P.E. class who often gave me (and many others) the look of death and cursed at me loudly for not hitting the ball during a game of softball or volleyball. Seventh and eighth grades were full of a group of male classmates who loved telling others repeatedly, “Only a nerd.”
One of my most humiliating experiences was in my freshman high school health class. A male classmate and a boy one grade ahead showed me a photo from a bodybuilding magazine. At first I thought they just wanted to see my reaction to seeing this muscular man’s bare-chest. Then they laughed and asked if I was jealous, an immature question meant to belittle poor, flat-chested me. I wanted to punch them, but instead did nothing and said nothing. I told the teacher the next day, who solved the issue by moving me to the other side of the classroom (as well as announcing that she was moving me).
As a strong introvert, I often felt out of place in school, like I was just taking up space. I was often asked if I ever talked and did not date until I was 16. I think my main problem was that I had the self-esteem of a rock. Fortunately, I loved college. I am just thankful that social media was not around during my school years.
While bullying is nothing new, today’s school children have to endure the ugly side of technology. They often experience a form of bullying that does not go away once they are off the school grounds and back home.
Program at Primary
On March 29, Atascosa Family Crisis Center Outreach Advocate Shawnene Edmondson presented a training session called “A Parent’s Guide to Bullying” at the Pleasanton Primary School.
“That is the key about bullying- repeated behavior. It’s not a one-time incident, it is something that continues to happen over and over.”
Edmondson defined bullying as, “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children and involves a real or perceived power imbalance.”
She explained that both kids who are bullied and those who bully others sometimes have serious, lasting problems that continue through adulthood. When a child bullies, they use their power. This may include physical strength, knowing something embarrassing about someone or popularity, to control or harm others. Bullying behaviors happen more than once or have the potential to happen more than once. It can also include actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally and excluding someone from a group on purpose.
The types of bullying are:
Verbal bullying- saying or writing mean things. Examples are teasing, name-calling, inappropriate sexual comments or threatening to cause harm.
Social bullying- sometimes referred to as relational bullying. This involves hurting someone’s reputation or relationships.
Physical bullying- hurting a person’s body or possessions. Some examples are hitting, kicking, spitting, pushing or taking someone’s things.
Cyber-bullying- using technology to bully.
“Usually bullying happens when there is not as much supervision,” said Edmondson. “Kids know what they are doing. There is the playground or the school bus.”
While most reported bullying happens in the school building, bullying can also happen traveling to and from school, in the youth’s neighborhood or on the internet.
She advised parents to help children understand bullying.
“That is the biggest thing, to help them understand what it is and to stand up to it, to recognize it. Talk to your child. The lines of communication are huge. Ask your child about their day. Encourage them to be involved in things they like to do,” said Edmondson.
Whether it is soccer, T-ball, piano lessons, etc. encourage them, as such activities and hobbies can boost confidence, help children make friends and protect them from bullying behaviors.
As a parent, always remember that you are the model for them. Children watch how their parents treat each other, how they talk to each other, whether they call each other names and even throwing a fit to get what they want. Children often see such behaviors and decide to do the same. Especially in their early years, children absorb everything around them like a sponge.
“It can be in your own home, or maybe another environment that they are exposed to. Maybe from an aunt and uncle, or another friend.”
Communication is key
Start conversations about daily life and feelings, to keep those lines of communication open. Examples of such questions to ask your child are:
What was one good thing that happened today? Any bad things?
What is lunch time like at your school? Who do you sit with? What do you talk about?
What is it like to ride the school bus?
What are you good at? What do you like best about yourself?
“Give them time, because children are embarrassed. A lot of times they don’t know if what they are going through is bad. The may be ashamed or be afraid that they are going to get in trouble, so they don’t want to come out and say, ‘Mom, this kid is pushing me,’ or ‘I sit with myself everyday.’”
Edmondson strongly advised parents to become involved in their child’s school from day one. Meet the teachers and counselors at the beginning of the school year or reach out by e-mail, rather than waiting until the middle or the end of the year to try to get to know your child’s teacher. Read class newsletters, check the school web site, go to school events and have your child do so as well.
That helps because then the child feels that they are part of the school and part of the environment. Make it a point to meet that bus driver.”
She emphasized, “Take the time to know what is going on in your child’s life. That is so important. Don’t wait for that moment that your child comes in crying and upset and totally shot down, to try and fix things. I do speak from experience of having children that were bullied, I can tell you every school has it. You can move your kid and move your kid- I did that.”
She moved her child from one school to another and it did not stop the problem.
Becoming involved, knowing your child’s teachers, knowing their friends and knowing what goes on in the school are huge steps in prevention. As parent’s, involvement is a big step and parent/ teacher involvement is even bigger. Speaking from experience we can’t always expect our child will come to us and tell us what is wrong. We have to ask questions and know the environment they are in daily.