Inspired by the documentary film Bully, I recently hosted a meet up for interested parents, teachers, and community members to discuss bullying. I do not claim or aim to be a bully prevention program, but my programs Athena’s Path & Hero’s Pursuit help kids manage their middle school social scene, and let’s face it, bullies are a part of that world.
We met at The Wine Shop on Fairview Road and this is not just the wine talking we had an awesome crowd. In attendance: a guidance counselor from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, a psychologist who works with teens, a math teacher from a private school, a principal of a middle school, a handful of moms from public and private school, a concerned aunt, as well as me and my right hand, Quinn Davidson, who many of you know via email, so it was nice to make introductions face to face. What a broad perspective we represented around the table.
Creating our agenda on the fly, we shared introductions, why we were there, and any points we hoped would be covered or questions answered.
Here are some of the highlights from our discussion:
• Our kids need to understand what is bullying and what is not.
According to stopbullying.gov, bullying is:
An Imbalance of Power: Kids who bully use their power—such as physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or popularity—to control or harm others. Power imbalances can change over time and in different situations, even if they involve the same people.
Repetition:Bullying behaviors happen more than once or have the potential to happen more than once.
• What doesn’t work? Calling parent to parent. Moms and the psychologist agreed that schools can intervene to call parents of a bully, but a parent calling another to complain of bullying behavior does more harm than good.
• Schools have very limited resources. According to the guidance counselor, the choices come down to suspending a kid or not …with very few (if any) options in between. Documentation, corroboration, and investigation of bullying incidents can often be more time consuming than staff or time will allow. Ouch.
• It’s not that administrators don’t care. It just takes a lot of time and effort to get to the whole truth. And sometimes, there’s more to the story than one parent knows.
• Some kids are starting to file bullying reports as a way to bully. Yikes! We are gonna need to build a better mousetrap.
• Lack of empathy seems to be the biggest problem with bullies. How do we develop that? It doesn’t happen quickly but by letting them get raw and vulnerable it can happen. (This is what we do in Ap & HP, by the way.)
• We must educate kids on how to respond as bystanders. Many parents think their kid would never bully but do they understand the role of the bystander as part of the problem? Dateline did a series on this and parents were shocked. Rosalind Wiseman, bullying expert and author of Queen Bees & Wannabes says the key to stopping bullying is to educate bystanders. Watch the dateline videos for yourself. (I’ve linked to the first one, you will need to click on each of the six to see the whole episode.)
• Sometimes it’s not physically safe to say something in the moment. Kids can also approach a victim or aggressor later when things are more calm to express themselves.
• The Butterfly Project is another good way to teach about the power of the bystander.
• What can parents do? Practice ways to respond with your kid. A bully tries to take away your power. A kid with a plan feels empowered.
• Parents should also react with empathy but not overly angry. Many kids don’t tell their parents what happens for fear their parents will “freak out.”
Thank you to the parents and educators who came out for a great conversation. We learned a lot from each other. If you have questions or comments, please leave them here or email me.
To go against the dominant thinking of your friends, of most of the people you see every day, is perhaps the most difficult act of heroism you can perform. - Theodore H. White