For the past eight years, I’ve been traveling the nation’s schools, sharing my message with thousands of students, teachers, and parents that it’s not just joking around, that when kids tease and reject one another, they are damaging each other for life. I know firsthand because from fifth grade through the end of high school I was tormented by my peers, as so many other kids are today, simply for being “different.”
You would think after speaking at so many schools, they would all seem alike to me. Truthfully, some do. And then, there are those that stand out as remarkable examples of what can be done in the fight against bullying when the adults in the school are courageous and unrelenting in their efforts. The principals at these schools are open and honest with faculty and students, encourage the same healthy communication in return, and are dedicated not only to intervention, but consistent follow-up, something still sadly lacking in too many educational environments.
Schools are stepping up to the plate, but no educator can or should replace the role of parent. If we’re to win this war on school bullying, I urge each and every parent reading this column to take stock at home. Is your child a possible victim of bullying? Or are they themselves a bully? When the lights are turned off at night, is your child sleeping, or are they lying awake in the dark, dreading school the next day because they know they will face hurt and rejection the moment they walk through those big glass doors? Do you know the names of the students your child admires, and those they don’t and why? Is your child happy or simply putting on a happy face for you?
Schools reach out to me for solutions to these questions every day. Now I am reaching out to all of you who are parents:
- Pay attention to your child’s mood. Don’t just relegate grumpiness to back to school blues; it could be fear masquerading as irritability.
- It’s the beginning of the school year. Get involved now before problems start, not after they’ve begun.
- Establish a rapport with your child’s guidance counselor.
- Don’t be afraid to ask your child specific questions, and learn to listen patiently and without judgment.
- Get to know the parents of your child’s friends and establish an open line of communication and support.
- Encourage your child to embrace the new students at school. It’s an easy way to make new friends.