As a grandmother of five lively and self-confident grandchildren ages 4 to 15, I thought little of the disturbing news of what experts call the “frightful epidemic of bullying” in our nation’s schools.
I assumed my grandchildren knew how to protect themselves from misguided schoolyard bullies who prey on vulnerable children.
I was wrong. A few years ago, I took my 9-year-old granddaughter to school. Accompanying her to the playground to say hello to a teacher I had known for many years. Just before the bell rang, we heard another student tell my granddaughter she wouldn’t be allowed to play with their mutual friends at recess because they didn’t like her anymore. My granddaughter blinked back tears, but said nothing. The teacher, wiser in the ways of bullies than I, ordered the offender to stay in from recess to write a paragraph about her bullying behavior.
I told my granddaughter to ignore the girl, recalling the advice I got when I was a child. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Ignoring bullies empowers them.“There is a common—and a very mistaken—belief that [bullying] is okay,”says Julie Hertzog, director of the Bullying Prevention Project Pacer, a Minneapolis-based organization for children with disabilities, in Family Circle magazine.
“Many adults say bullying is a ‘normal part of childhood’ or that ‘boys will be boys’. But that’s just wrong,” she says. “None of us should consider bullying normal or retreat when we see a child humiliated or picked on by a schoolyard tyrant.”
The stakes are too high and too dangerous to ignore.
Experts say the increase in violence among children and the ease in which children can obtain guns make it necessary for parents to stress to their children that saving face is secondary to saving their own lives,” says Dr. Marilyn Benoit of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Reforming bullies is a daunting task. Parents, teachers and school administrators are on the front lines in the enduring battle. But we all share the responsibility of neutralizing young tyrants.
Former First Lady Hillary Clinton’s advice that it “takes a village” of parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles to raise children is more relevant than ever. Extended family members provide another tier of protection for children, including being on alert for the increasingly toxic antics of budding bullies.“At one time, you might just get punched in the face,” Dr.Benoit recalls about bullying in past decades. “But now, you can get shot.”
Meanwhile, all of us—parents, grandparents and extended family—must teach our children how to disarm a bully. By maintaining eye contact, walking away and asking an adult to intervene.
“Tell your children to seek adult intervention. Bullies thrive on the fact that their victims are too afraid and too embarrassed to report them to adults and authority figures. But experts say that children need to expose them to parents, school officials, even the police, if necessary. That’s if they want to put an end to harassment,”says Dr. Benoit.
“We must not give children the message that they’re weak when they turn to an adult for help,” Benoit continues. “We’ve done that too much. It starts in kindergarten. We need to let them know that it’s courageous to say, ‘I will go and get the teacher’. You want to teach your child to use whatever resources are available”. Minimizing the risk of harm to our children, that’s a cause a whole village can embrace.