After having to deal with years of bullying at his primary school, I find myself at my wit’s end last year, for having to sit with my younger son at another counselor. Often parents are oblivious that their children are being bullied at school. As a parent of two boys, aged 12 and 16 years, who have both fallen victim of bullying, I find that I do have some kind of understanding about this serious issue. Unlike my firstborn who at the first week of school made friends with the school bully, my younger son didn’t deal with bullying in the same way, causing great frustration for myself, my husband and even his brother.
The Education Department, in their wellbeing and bullying website, provides some of the signs and symptoms for victims of bullying. These symptoms read as if the child is suffering from a common cold. Reading through the advice page for when your child is the bully, made me wonder if the researchers have a clear understanding of the causes of bullying. The advice provided is that the parent needs to sit down and have a discussion with the child about their behaviour and to ask them to stop. But from the journal article, “Nature or Nurture – Why are Schoolkids Bullied?” one realizes that sitting down with these children is not a viable solution, for these children tend to come from schools with a “‘toughen-up’ culture and high rates of domestic violence and social neglect”.
We have become a society of instant gratification and placing our responsibility upon others, such as government organisations, teachers and after school carers, that makes us want to see immediate results. If we don’t see any results soon enough, we start to criticise the plan. According to the book Ruth, Roger and Me, preceding generations believed in giving every person “a fair go,” but now debates are focussed on if institutions are “fit for purpose” (18).
An African proverb teaches us that “it takes a village to raise a child,” meaning that we are not alone in trying to raise our children. But our children can learn from people surrounding them that certain actions have consequences, whether at school, afterschool care, holiday programs and even visiting close relations. It isn’t another person’s responsibility to raise our children, but if one sees something happening that could cause harm to another person, should you not act?
Are we teaching children what true repentance is? Repentance means to feel sorrowful for the wrong you have done and turn away from wrongdoing and dedicate oneself to the amendment of one’s life. But we are seeing a rise in bullying behavior and one wonders if the bully does feel sorrowful for their behavior? Will they ever turn away from it? Are we going about things in the wrong way then?
From bully to frenemies
What is bullying then really? Bullying is a repetitive act of violence, “verbal” or “emotional” abuse that can happen physically or online. Bullies aren’t afraid of doing this in public to cause more harm to their victim. The reasons for this behaviour differs from person to person and can include just messing around, to fit into a group, to have people afraid of them or could be a replication of behaviour that they see at home. Their actions are caused by unhappy relationships with their peers and family members to get the attention they need from their parent or guardian. They need to control their situation because of the lack of power they experience at home or school.
A report from the Australian Government state that there are different contributing factors within the relationship between a parent and the child that can cause bullying behaviour. These factors that the child experience are feelings of rejection, the lack of care physically and emotionally, lack of connection, family conflict and abuse, being unfairly punished and varying discipline methods and lack of social support from family and friends. Although not all bullies come from broken homes, some do have personality traits that lean more to the violent and hot-tempered side because of a lack of problem-solving skills. Can one then but wonder why the child turns on another to harm them out of frustration? Jesus taught us in Luke 6: 31(NIV) that we have to “do to others as you would have them do to you.” This important lesson has to be taught at home. But if the house is breaking up, where is a child supposed to learn this fundamental lesson?
Once the afterschool carer reported an incident to me in which my younger son was involved with. Apparently, after being pushed, my son pinned the boy to the wall. The boy was twice my son’s size, and in my head, I wanted to do a fist pump for his bravery, but I made my son apologise.
With the help of the after-school caregiver, we found that just like my son, the boy feared to lose his friends. With empathy, we let them both understand that if they play with each other, they don’t need to feel so threatened. In the end, they became friends, for the rest of that school year. I can only hope that both boys learned a valuable lesson. Children should also learn that they don’t always need to agree on everything, and that too is okay.
Parents have a say
But what about the parents of the bullies, because gone is the day being called to the principal’s office if your child oversteps the line. Now, warnings are given to the children followed by red cards, detention, suspensions only then are the child expelled from school. An online survey on the opinions on should parents of bullies have to pay fines, shows that more than half already agreed, stating that the parents should know what their children are up to. Although, just under fifty per cent disagreed stating that it is the child that is at fault here, and did the offence, hence, should be the one paying for it. Wisconsin Rapid is looking into this controversial legislation that can see parents being fined or imprisoned if their children are found guilty of bullying, in an attempt to deter this kind of behaviour. Dr Amanda Nickerson feels sceptical that parents-fines will solve the issue, because of the unfairness of punishing parents for their children’s bad behaviour. But the Chief of Plover Police Department countered saying that if the “child breaks [something] in a store, then they should also be held responsible if their child is bullying other students.”
There are also those, like Karyn Healy, a Psychologist and Program Coordinator, providing advice on what parents should do if their child is bullied at school, placing more focus on the victim of the crime. She states that if parental support is right, the child will not attract the attention of the bully, in something that is called building social skills. And if all other measures fail to call on the Education department or if it is severe enough reporting the bullying to the police.
But what can parents do whose child find themselves in the hands of a bully? J D Daniel talks about his own experience of bullies in school and The Golden Rule, giving other parents some comical advice on what to do when your child falls victim of bullying. His primary focus is on the biblical truth of “treat others as you want to be treated.” Daniel’s claim that what children see on television reflect in their lives, therefore they learn that you need to “give them a taste of their own medicine or fighting fire with fire.” Daniel’s give three simple steps to enact the “Golden Rule” by teaching your child to “respond with kindness,” just like it says in Proverbs 25:21-22 (NIV), “if your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.” Daniel’s said to follow kindness; one needs to instruct your child to be more forgiving towards others and therefore letting go of that anger and frustration because Jesus himself said, that “for if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” (Matt 6:14, NIV). Also, to educate our children to see the brokenness and hurt inside others and then to instead of acting against it to show compassion. But this can be hard for some children finding themselves daily at the mercy of a bully.
All this advice are all good and well, but are mostly centered around what the victim should do when they find themselves in an intimidating situation. Even going as far as blaming the victim and their families for lacking the right handling and social skills. During my Psychology studies a few years ago, I tried to find out why children misbehave and found in my textbook, Psychology in context, that “fearful children, who tend to be shy and anxious, learn moral standards best when their mothers gently discipline them and encourage them to do right instead of threatening them about the consequences of doing wrong.” But some children come from abusive homes where there are no gentle discipline or any sort of encouragement. So, let us be honest with one another and approach the matter from the perpetrator’s side, instead of victimizing the victim.
Parents and Teachers unite
As a parent, I felt that my voice in this matter was either ignored or just lost in the void of other conversations between teachers, experts, children and the education department.
A few years ago, I got to my younger son’s school to pick him up. He was pushed to the ground by another boy, and the boy started kicking him.
“Hey, what do you think you’re doing!” I yelled out.
Making parents turn to look at the scene where the boy released my son. The boy stared at my approaching figure in horror, then turned around and ran away.
When I reached my son, he already got up, wiping away his tears. I took him by his hand to the school office. I explained to the office staff what happened, and they reassured me that they would handle the matter on Monday. The following week a notice went out to all parents notifying us that the school isn’t liable for the student’s behaviour after school hours.
Parents and teachers should work together in creating a safer, more emotional stable environment for the child. Parents voice their concerns about the continued abuse of their children, stating that the school is either failing in protecting the child or “prevent the problem from reoccurring.” This apathetic response of schools causes parents to accuse the schools of insufficiently responding to their child’s needs.
Although schools started implementing the WITS-program, that means: Walk away, ignore the bully, talk about it and seek help. The plan is yet again focusing on the victim of the wrongdoing, rather than the aggressor. During discussions with the school, parents can experience that “their expertise as the parent of the child is being overlooked by the teacher” (Hale, Fox & Murray, 2017). With repeat offences being reported by the parent’s, communication gets soured, and the parents believe themselves to be the school’s “‘troublemakers’ for doubting the school’s approach and signalling this doubt by instigating ongoing interactions with the school” (Hale, Fox & Murray). Teachers need to realize that the parents of the victims aren’t at fault here and assist them in identifying the culprits and focus on the rehabilitation of these individuals.
Parents do sympathize with the teacher’s position as seen in an article in Stuff News voicing public opinion, with one such comment stating teachers themselves find themselves in a problematic situation because “a lot of bullying starts because there is not enough adult supervision in our schools during break and lunchtimes.”
Clair Canfield claims conflict can be beautiful if you look at conflict situations differently. Teachers need to learn how to recognize what the conflict is about; in other words, to look behind the problem the child is experiencing and why the child is acting the way they are. It can mean that the teacher can identify things like identity or relationship struggles. If the child is stuck in the same bad behaviour, support can be provided to help them see the issue from a different point of view. The child (bully) needs to realize they aren’t “blameless” and that they need to change their behaviour, through “taking ownership” of what happened. Also, the child needs to understand what stimulates their action and find a way to change that and find someone that they can trust to confide in to share their problem with. By learning to communicate and listening to the children, teachers can identify hidden issues and create trust so that the child will know that he/she is safe.
Australian Institute of Family Studies. (2014). Children who bully at school. Retrieved from https://aifs.gov.au/cfca/publications/children-who-bully-school/parental-influences-bullying-behaviour>.
Bogel-Burroughs, N. (2019, June 11). “Your Child Bullied Someone? That’ll Cost You $313.” The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/11/us/bullying-schools-parents-fines.html>.
Bullyingfreenz. Information for students. (n.d). Retrieved from https://www.bullyingfree.nz/about-bullying/what-is-bullying/>.
Canfield, C. (2016).The Beauty of Conflict. YouTube. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=55n9pH_A0O8>.
Daniel, J.D. (2015).Bullies in School and The Golden Rule. YouTube. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qItCBNzqdn8>.
Dean, A. (2015). Ruth, Roger and Me Debts and Legacies. pp.7-20. Wellington: Bridget Williams Books Ltd.
Debate.org. (2019). Should Parents of Bullies have to Pay Fines? Retrieved from https://www.debate.org/opinions/should-parents-of-bullies-have-to-pay-fines>.
Education.govt.nz. (24 May 2018). Education.govt.nz for parents – Practical information about education for parents and carers. Retrieved from https://parents.education.govt.nz/secondary-school/wellbeing/bullying/>.
Hale, R., Fox, C.L. & Murray, M. (2017). “As a Parent You Become a Tiger”: Parents Talking about Bullying at School.” Journal of Child and Family Studies 26(7): 2000-2015. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com › article
Healy, K. (2015, March 17). “What should parents do if their child is bullied at school?” The Conversation. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/what-should-parents-do-if-their-child-is-bullied-at-school-37152>.
Holy Bible. (n.d). New International Version. Retrieved from https://www.youversion.com/the-bible-app/>.
Kosslyn, S., Lambert, R.& Rosenberg, A.(2014). “Chapter 12 – Psychology over the life-span: growing up, growing older, growing wiser.” Psychology in context. p.444. New Jersey: Pearson.
Stuff News. (2014, August 18). “Top 10 Reader Comments on Bullying.”Stuff News. Retrieved from http://www.stuff.co.nz/stuff-nation/10395334/Top-10-reader-comments-on-bullying>.
The Press. (2018, May 2). “Nature or nurture – why are schoolkids bullied?” The Press. p.5. Retrieved from http://eds.b.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.massey.ac.nz/eds/detail/detail?vid=7&sid=fadccac8-779a-49c4-8dac-bc0022b66e61%40pdc-v-sessmgr02&b.
References that influenced my writing:
MEME. (2018, February 24). If your Child bullies mine I’m Showing Up at your – Meme. Retrieved from https://me.me/i/if-your-child-bullies-mine-im-showing-up-at-your-20748801>.
Palmer, Scott. (2018, November 12). “Stand Strong NZ: New Zealand’s ‘deeply disturbing’ bullying rates revealed.” NewsHub. Retrieved from https://www.newshub.co.nz/home/new-zealand/2018/11/stand-strong-nz-new-zealand-s-deeply-disturbing-bullying-rates-revealed.html>.
Week 5 lesson. (2019). Public intellectuals and writerly strategies. Writing for the Public.