Anti-Bully Advice

21 Aug

Letterbalm BullyDear LetterBalm: My son will be a sophomore in high school. Last year, some of his classmates were bullied, and it got ugly. Their school has a zero tolerance policy against bullying, and, in fact, took actions against kids who defended themselves. One boy was punished for punching a tormentor threatening him and his brother, and another kid was suspended for a week for using a karate kick (he was a karate student for years), even though he had been picked on for most of the school year. I think this is wrong – schools are punishing those who are striking back, and a lot of parents agree with me. But I don’t want my opinion to influence my son. What can I tell him to help him?

–Father Doesn’t Know Best

Bullying is such a complex issue that no one has all the answers. Further discussions will certainly come up in future LetterBalms. For now, bear in mind that schools are, indeed, punishing those who use physical action to stand up to bullies. The logic is that a physical response to taunts and humiliations is as bad as the bullying itself. So, in this incendiary situation, you are right to tamp down your anger and set a good example for your son. Ms. L.B. suggests you sit with him privately and review his school’s bullying policy, whether he’s the subject of bullying or advocating for someone who is. Ask him questions about what he would do in different circumstances. In a sense, you and he are forming his own action plan:

Josh, I wanted to have this talk with you before school started because last year there were issues with your friends being bullied. I don’t have all the answers – bullying is such a complicated thing. But I want us to review your school’s bullying policy to make sure we both understand it. I have it here. Let’s look at it. [Questions, answers and discussion ensue.] I want you to remember a couple of things. First, staying on the sidelines and staying neutral and doing nothing is unacceptable because it means you’re on the side of the bully. You have to do something, even if it is to say “Stop it.” Go find the best adult in the school that you can, the person who is the most responsible and reliable. Tell that person what’s happening and ask them to take care of the problem. I want you always to remember that I’ll support you as long as you do the right thing, and I want you to feel you can talk to me about this anytime.

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