Parents in the Fray: A Principal’s Perspective on Families Confronting Each Other About Bullying

By Allison Wedell Schumacher

Parents in the Fray: A Principal’s Perspective on Families Confronting Each Other About BullyingBelieve me, I know the feeling: Your child looks up at you with that sweet, tear-stained face, chin wavering, and tells you she’s been bullied at school. And for a moment there—just a moment—you see red. You have visions of marching over to that child’s house and giving the parents what-for. How DARE they raise a child who would bully anyone else! What were they thinking? Justice must be served!

But I’m here to tell you: “Stand down, tiger-parent.”

It’s great that you are so firmly in your kiddo’s corner, but immediately confronting the parents of the child who bullied is at best ineffective and at worst disastrous. It can be frustrating and time consuming, but the best way to handle bullying is through your child’s school.

Heidi George should know. She has been the principal at Four Seasons A+ in St. Paul, Minnesota, for four years now—and before that, she was a school counselor for seven. As the mother of four children, she is also intimately familiar with the other side of the coin.

I asked her how she handles it when parents come to her loaded for bear and ready to take on another parent over a bullying incident. When that happens, says Ms. George, “My job is to listen and let their frustrations and voice be heard.” Once parents have had a chance to tell her their perspective on the situation, Ms. George starts talking.

“I let them know that it is my job to keep all kids safe. It is my job to ensure that students have a welcoming and safe environment to learn. I let parents know that I will investigate the situation and speak with their child, as well as the other child.” After all, many parents want to confront other parents because they think the school will not deal with the bullying incident properly (or at all), so Ms. George makes it a point to be very specific about what will happen.

“As a parent of four kids, I completely can understand and empathize with families regarding how their children are treated,” Ms. George explains. “I make sure that families know that as a mother, I hear you. As a principal, I hear you.” Then she provides options. She relies on her sixteen years as an educator to get a read on the families involved. Ms. George has discovered that she can tell whether getting everyone together in the same room to discuss the situation will help or hurt, and she advises accordingly.

“If the parents are still really upset, it would not be appropriate to have the families come together,” says Ms. George. “But if both parties are willing to come to the table to collaborate on how we are raising our children, it can be extremely powerful.”

Just as the decision to have such a meeting must be very intentional, so must the way in which the meeting is conducted. Ms. George warns that it “should happen in a neutral environment and be facilitated by a third party.”

The advantage to this approach is twofold: First, it helps families develop a stronger bond with the school: “As we talk through this, a trusting relationship is built, and the most important thing is the follow through.” When families see that something is truly being done about the situation, they’re much less likely to want to handle it themselves.

The second advantage to getting families into a room together to discuss bullying is what the students learn from it. “It is very powerful to have children watch and learn from their families that it takes a village to raise kids. It takes the partnership from both families to make it work for their students,” says Ms. George.

Again, this approach isn’t for everyone and doesn’t fit every bullying incident. But the next time you’re compelled to go all tiger-parent about a bullying incident, be sure to bring the school into it instead. Your assertive advocacy on your child’s behalf—not to mention the teamwork between you, the other family, and the school—can benefit everyone involved.

Allison Wedell SchumacherAllison Wedell Schumacher is a freelance writer, editor, and mom whose diverse work focuses on child abuse prevention, bullying prevention, social-emotional learning, fitness, and theater/acting. She is the author of Shaking Hands with Shakespeare: A Teenager’s Guide to Reading and Performing the Bard (Simon & Schuster, 2004), and her work has been featured here and at babycenter.com, MomsRising.org, and Committee for Children. You can find her on LinkedIn.


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9 Prompts to Spark Discussion During Bullying Prevention Month

Adapted from Bully Free Zone® In a Jar®: Tips for Dealing with Bullying

9 Prompts to Spark Discussion During Bullying Prevention MonthKids know bullying is bad, but they don’t always have the tools or skills to deal with it when it happens. These nine discussion prompts will get your students thinking about many aspects of bullying, including the effects on all parties involved, who they can reach out to for help, and how they can help put an end to bullying. Use your students’ answers to guide them to become upstanders.

  1. Talk about a time you helped someone who was being bullied.
  2. Name three things you can do to end the bullying.
  3. What do you think is the difference between teasing and bullying? Is teasing ever okay? If so, when?
  4. Talk about a person in your life who is an ally to you—someone who stands up for you or supports you.
  5. What are some effects of bullying on bystanders (people who witness or know about bullying)?
  6. Name three adults who could help you if you are bullied or witness bullying.
  7. What are some effects of bullying on those who bully?
  8. Empathy means understanding how other people feel. How do you think things would be different if everyone had lots of empathy?
  9. Talk about bullying or mean behavior you have seen on TV or in other media. Do you think scenes like this affect the way kids act? Why or why not?

Bully Free Zone In a JarFor more bullying prevention tips and strategies, plus activities and scenarios to promote conversations with kids about bullying, check out Bully Free Zone® In a Jar®: Tips for Dealing with Bullying.


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How to Prevent Bullying on Field Trips

By Andrew Hawk

How to Prevent Bullying on Field TripsField trips come in all shapes and sizes. From visiting local museums to taking a class trip to Washington, D.C., teachers and students enjoy spending educational time outside of the school environment. Field trips do come with their own set of challenges, though. While distance from school may be enjoyable, it also means distance from all the school’s resources. Discipline plans may need to be altered. The nurse usually does not go on field trips. In addition, if anything does happen to go wrong, the public will be present to see it. The added pressure on teachers plus the excitement of students need to be managed in a proactive manner to prevent problems.

One challenge that can wreck a field trip is bullying. Typically, several classes are mixed together with teachers and a few parents acting as chaperones. The large group size and large-scale mingling of personalities can lead to an increase in bullying that might not occur in the traditional school environment. Here are some tips that will help you prevent bullying on field trips.

Establish Behavior Expectations
The morning of the field trip or the day before the trip are perfect times to review behavior expectations. During the review, include details about the importance of representing your school in public. Acknowledge that everyone will be excited and that excitement can lead to showing off. Remind students of expectations related to bullying and review the school discipline procedures.

Increase the Number of Adults
Teaching assistants and parents make great chaperones. Increasing the number of adults who are present and visible will help prevent bullying on your field trip. Be sure that adults who are not employed with the school system are aware of school behavior expectations. These people also need to be informed, in detail, of what they should do if they encounter any misbehavior.

Choose Your Extra Adults Strategically
How the extra adults are selected to attend field trips varies from school to school. Some schools let everyone who is willing go on field trips. Other schools get a list of volunteers and draw names. If you have any say in the selection process, choose strategically. If you have a student attending your field trip who has a history of exhibiting bullying behavior, select this student’s parent or guardian to go on the trip.

Group Students with a Purpose
In many cases, teachers make field trip groups and assign teachers and extra adults to be in charge of each group. I typically group students with a history of bullying behavior away from students who are likely targets. I also put the students who have a history of bullying in my group or another teacher’s group, unless the students’ parents or guardians go on the trip.

How to Prevent Bullying on Field Trips ListPlan Appropriate Adult Supervision
Bullying usually happens in places where adults are few or nonexistent. Examples of these places include bathrooms, the bus, and wherever students will eat. Plan to have adult supervision in these areas. Have adults present for planned restroom breaks. Evenly distribute adults on the bus. Be sure adults are spread out in the eating place as well. The problem with field trips is that the adults who go on them do not really get a break during the trip. Gone are lunches and planning periods. However, to prevent bullying, adults will have to keep their guards up throughout the entire trip.

Know the Area You Are Visiting
Familiarize yourself with the basic location of your field trip. Try to spot any areas that may prove to be problematic and plan for these areas accordingly. Problems may arise from locations that are hard to supervise or even from content. I was caught off guard once when I took a group of fifth graders to a Native American museum. One of the mannequin arrangements showed females unclothed from the waist up. The students’ behavior in this area was not appropriate. This was my fault for not having taken any preventative actions to combat poor behavior. Learn from my mistake and familiarize yourself with your destination.

Do Not Forget Students from Other Schools
While teachers can exercise some influence on their own students, you are likely to encounter students from other schools over whom you will have no influence. The best way to prepare to encounter bullying behavior from outside students is to role-play how you expect your students to respond if they encounter problems with students from other schools.

Consider Consequences While on the Field Trip
You’ll be able to address most infractions once you are back at school. However, physical bullying will need to be addressed as soon as possible. You should meet with your administrative team to hash out a plan to address incidents of bullying that cannot wait until the field trip is over.

In closing, field trips are one of the best parts of the school year. Hopefully you will go on many field trips and never encounter a serious problem. However, it is best to think through several scenarios just in case a problem does arise. Good luck and have fun!

Andrew HawkAndrew Hawk has worked in public education for fourteen years, starting as a teaching assistant in a special education classroom. He has taught first, second, and fifth grades as a classroom teacher, and for the past three years, has worked as a resource room teacher, providing services for fourth and fifth graders. Working as a special education teacher has given him the opportunity to work with a variety of age groups and exceptionalities. In 2011, he earned his master’s degree in special education from Western Governor’s University. When Andrew is not preparing for school, he enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter.


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The Current State of Cyberbullying

By Judge Tom Jacobs, coauthor of Every Vote Matters: The Power of Your Voice, from Student Elections to the Supreme Court

The Current State of CyberbullyingOver the past decade, adults and teenagers have been prosecuted for cyberbullying. Whether charged specifically with an act of cyberbullying or an underlying crime of stalking, harassment, intimidation, or threatening someone, law enforcement continues to address this global phenomenon.

Statistics vary on the extent of the problem. It is generally agreed that 10 to 20 percent of teens in the United States are cyberbullied on a regular basis. Globally, it is estimated that 37 percent of eight- to seventeen-year-olds are cyberbullied, with only 20 to 30 percent of cyberbullying cases being reported. The Pew Internet Research Center reports that 95 percent of students have witnessed cyberbullying, with 90 percent of those ignoring it at some point.

All states have criminal laws that address cyberbullying behavior. Many rely on already existing statutes that prohibit behavior such as criminal harassment. Others have amended their laws by adding the term “electronic harassment.” State legislatures have tried to strike a balance between free speech and restricted speech when it comes to digital expression. South Carolina has had such laws since 2006, and Alaska and Iowa followed suit in 2007. At present, forty-four states have passed legislation imposing criminal sanctions for online harassment.

In addition to the criminal justice system, the nation’s schools continue to define and control cyberbullying on and off campus. Issues surrounding the suspension and expulsion of students who violate school policies regarding cell phones and other digital devices are debated in classrooms and courtrooms regularly. Federal and state courts wrestle with balancing a student’s freedom of expression/speech with the school’s responsibility to maintain a safe environment for everyone. State legislatures have been considering allowing students internet access only in highly visible areas of the school; establishing preselected websites according to age groups, reviewing effective firewalls (filtering and monitoring software mechanisms), and strictly and promptly acting against students who violate school policy. Regarding the latter point, forty-five states authorize school sanctions for students who cyberbully. Sixteen of those states include sanctions for off-campus cyberbullying.

A recent example of school legislation happened in California (effective this year), which expanded the definition of cyberbullying to include sexual cyberbullying. It is defined as the sharing of nude photos or videos of others “with the purpose of humiliating or harassing a student.” California public schools are authorized to expel students who engage in these sexting activities. In 2017, Texas passed David’s Law, which authorizes prosecution of students who use social media to encourage others to harm themselves or commit suicide. This includes off-campus communications.

Although 2017 has witnessed a decline in reported bullycides, some teenagers still choose to end their pain by taking their lives. Five tween and teen students committed suicide due, in part, to online bullying on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and other social media platforms. In January 2017, we lost Ariana DeHerrera, thirteen, of Colorado. In February, Megan Evans, fourteen, hanged herself at home in England. Elle Trowbridge, sixteen, of Ireland passed away in April, and Mallory Grossman, twelve, of New Jersey, passed in June. Finally, Libby Bell, a thirteen-year-old Australian girl took her life in August.

Clearly, the consequences of bullying and cyberbullying know no boundaries. Many countries are in the process of enacting rules, regulations, and laws to combat all forms of bullying. For example, India is preparing a curriculum for children between eight and ten years old. In 2016, Italy proposed legislation to sentence people who cyberbully to prison for one to six years. Education and awareness campaigns are underway in Malaysia and Thailand.

Bottom line: Be kind to others. Think about intended and unintended consequences before you post.

Judge Tom Jacobs, Free Spirit Publishing AuthorThomas A. Jacobs, J.D., was an Arizona Assistant Attorney General from 1972 to 1985 where he practiced criminal and child welfare law. He was appointed to the Maricopa County Superior Court in 1985 where he served as a judge pro tem and commissioner in the juvenile and family courts until his retirement in 2008. He also taught juvenile law for 10 years as an adjunct professor at the Arizona State University School of Social Work. He continues to write for teens, lawyers, and judges. Visit Judge Jacobs’s website Askthejudge.info for free interactive educational tools that provide current information regarding laws, court decisions, and national news affecting teens.

Tom is a coauthor of Every Vote Matters and the author of What Are My Rights?, They Broke the Law—You Be the Judge, and Teen Cyberbullying Investigated.

Every vote matters

What Are My Rights from Free Spirit Publishingthey broke the lawTeen Cyberbullying Investigated from Free Spirit Publishing

 

 

 

 

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Enter to win resources for National Bullying Prevention Month!

Bullying Prevention Giveaway 2017About one out of every four U.S. students will report being bullied this year, making bullying the most common form of violence experienced by young people in the nation. Many of you are charged with preventing and responding to bullying, and we want you to be equipped with the knowledge and tools you need to effectively intervene and foster a culture of respect. To support your efforts, we’re giving away our biggest bullying prevention bundle ever—worth nearly $300! One reader will win a copy of each of these resources:

To Enter: Leave a comment below telling us how you prevent bullying.

For additional entries, leave a separate comment below for each of the following tasks that you complete:

Each comment counts as a separate entry—that’s four chances to win! Entries must be received by midnight, October 20, 2017.

The winner will be contacted via email on or around October 23, 2017, and will need to respond within 72 hours to claim his or her prize or another winner will be chosen. This giveaway is in no way affiliated with, administered, or endorsed by Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest. Winner must be a U.S. resident, 18 years of age or older.


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