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Sticks and Stones

Andrea Ramsay Speers - Tuesday, April 16, 2013

There has been a lot in the papers lately about bullying and cyber-bulling, in light of Rehteah Parsons’ death.  Obviously, this is a complicated issue with no simple answers, but every parent wants to keep their kids safe, even though that’s not always possible.  

Although not all kids will tell you outright that they are being teased or harassed at school, watch for changes in their moods, lack of enjoyment in activities they used to gain pleasure from, and a general down mood.  If cyber-bullying is a factor, they may become secretive or have strong reactions when it comes to computer use.  Of course, these signs could also be indicative of other issues, but it gives parents a place to start when looking for warning signs.

Friends and a sense of belonging are probably the best antidote to bullying, so encourage your child to develop close relationships with people she likes and trusts in many areas – yes, at school, but also on sports teams, at church, in the neighbourhood you live in, or other activities like Guiding and Scouting.  Having a safe zone that is separate from the tormentors can bring some much needed respite for kids, especially since cyber-bullying can follow a person anywhere.  If the behaviour crosses from teasing to tormenting, get involved at school and include the police if you feel that’s what’s called for, and work together to create anti-bullying plans.  Find a balance between letting your child handle the situation the way she feels most comfortable and advocating on her behalf when the situation crosses a certain line.

These are simple, starter steps, and not meant to be an exhaustive resource for handling complicated, ongoing, or dangerous instances of bullying.  Good places to start if you need more than just the basics are and PrevNet, both web sites with many resources for parents, kids and communities.  Our thoughts go out to the Parsons family at this time of tragedy.

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Sticks and Stones

Andrea Ramsay Speers - Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Bullies have changed quite a bit since our childhood, haven’t they?  In my case, the bullies were the ones who were socially inept, overtly aggressive kids.  In today's schools, however, bullying is regularly, if not mostly, perpetrated by the cool kids.  So, sadly, the kids most likely to make your child's life at school miserable, are also the ones that your child probably looks up to. 

Parenting expert Barbara Coloroso, who wrote the book The Bully, The Bullied, and The Bystander reports that what sets bullies apart from their peers is "the need to hold others in contempt."  That old making-yourself-feel-bigger-by-making-others-feel-smaller thing. 

But that in itself is not enough.  You need to have someone see this interchange in order for power to be gained from it.  So that means you need an audience -- bystanders -- who, by their mere presence, add legitimacy to the bully's actions.   And despite the fact that most parents would say that their children would never support a bully, research shows that peers are present for 85% of schoolyard bullying.  It's human nature to want to be on the side of the power and the status -- that's the way you avoid becoming the next victim.

But here's the rub: although they may be revered on some level, studies have shown that other kids don't actually want to be the bully's friend.

As a parent, it's important to talk to your kids about bullying, and to let them know that someone who watches bullying take place and doesn't say anything, is just as responsible as the person doing the bullying.  Explain to them that they are hurting the victim as much as the bully is, just by finding entertainment in the victim's pain.  And support your schools in implementing their anti-bullying policies.  Whether you are the parent of a victim or a bully, you need to get involved and stay connected to your school community.

(The Canadian Safe School Network is a great resource for anti-bullying programs, and PBS Kids has a cute anti-bullying game for younger kids, to get them thinking about their own roles in instances of bullying.)

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