Bullying is a topic that comes up frequently in both parent groups and in educator groups. And it should because it can really impact the social-emotional wellbeing of children who have been on the receiving end. Data supports the effects of bullying are felt by the victims, the bystanders, and even the bullies themselves. We definitely need to be concerned about bullying and avoid taking the stance of:
“Kids need to learn to handle tough situations! How will they deal with people if they don’t learn when they are young!”
Or “Oh, kids will be kids! Everybody’s mean sometimes!”
Or “Well, I was bullied, and I turned out ok!”
What I say to that is:
a) Kids need to learn that victimizing people is wrong. They need to know that we are going to help them when they ask for it. They must learn when they are young that bystanders have power they can use for doing the right thing.
b) Kids don’t have to be mean sometimes. Or anytime.
c) You actually didn’t turn out entirely ok. I can be almost certain.
Our school has taken a strong stand on bullying and requires all staff to be educated on identifying and dealing with bullying behaviors. We have a specific protocol to follow when bullying has been discovered. And, most importantly, we work hard to create an environment where bullying is much less likely to take place.
One way to do that is by creating a community where kids don’t need to sit alone at lunch. We all know these kids. These are new kids who don’t know anyone, or kids who don’t quite fit in the usual mold, or kids who have stuff happening at home that they don’t want anyone to know about.
When a child sits alone and is socially isolated outside of school, they are much more likely to be singled out as a bully’s victim. If they have no friends, they have no one to stick up for them. And most bullies don’t care to deal with groups of kids, or really anyone with a lot of social currency.
Your child may tell you about a lonely kid: “Oh so-and-so always eats alone. He doesn’t like anyone. He says weird things. He thinks he’s better than us. He never talks.” Yep, those are the ones. They often seem different and, even more often, indifferent. This is likely because they don’t want anyone to know that the isolation actually gets to them. It’s a coping behavior, one that most people would employ in a similar situation.
You should definitely help your child understand more about bullying. You should teach them what they should do when they are being bullied. You should help boost their self-esteem. You should absolutely report it to the school.
But if you really, truly care about bullying in your school and/or community, you will also teach your child to eat with the lonely kid. You’ll tell them to choose an isolated classmate for their project partner.
You’ll teach them that they can stand beside that kid and tell someone else to stop the bullying behavior. You’ll tell them about the power of the bystander, and show them how to use it.
The other day my husband was approached at the school gates by a new parent to our school. His son was new to our son’s class. He told my husband that he really appreciated how our son had been sitting with his boy every day at lunch so he wouldn’t have to sit alone as the new kid.
Now, my boy is a teenager and thus tells us nothing, so we didn’t realize he had taken on that responsibility. But apparently, he had been not only eating with him but spending all the breaks with him showing him the ropes as well as texting him after school to coach him through unfamiliar assignments. His response when we asked him was to shrug and say, “Well, that’s what I’d want if I were new.”
Good grades are wonderful. Getting into a good college is fabulous. But having a child who cares enough to sit with the new kid? Yeah. That’s some proud mom material.