WHAT IS BULLYING
In this article, we will talk about what you can do to help protect your child from school bullying – the traditional, physical in-person bullying. There are several other kinds of bullying including cyberbullying and office bullying (between adults). For more on cyberbullying, see Sexual Assault Goes Viral.
Bullying is a form of aggressive behavior in which someone intentionally and repeatedly causes another person injury or discomfort through physical contact, words or actions such as excluding someone from a group.
WHO GETS BULLIED
About 35% of 12-18 year old kids report in-person physical bullying. No surprise but the peak age for bullying is middle school. Most often, the kids who are being bullied are different in some ways from others. They may appear physically different – race or ethnicity, visibly religiously different, over or under-weight. They may appear to be someone who will not fight back or who does not have allies to help fight back – so those who are socially awkward or have low self-esteem. Kids who are (or who are perceived as) gay, lesbian, or transgender are more likely to be bullied.
The problem is rampant in Oklahoma and is currently being studied by the Oklahoma legislature. The Oklahoma Youth Risk Behavior Survey found 40,000 high school students said they were bullied at school – although only around 4,700 cases of bullying by a student were reported to the State Department of Education. Forty-one percent of students who attend a virtual charter school in Oklahoma left their previous school because they were victims of bullying.
SIGNS A KID IS BEING BULLIED
The majority of kids who are bullied do not report this. 43% of bullied students report notifying an adult at school about the incident. Students who report higher rates of bullying victimization are more likely to report the bullying. So if the majority of bullying victims do not report, how can you help protect your child form bullying? Some children, but not all, will show warning signs that there may be a bullying problem. These signs can include:
- Changes in behavior such as declining grades or loss of interest in school work or activities
- Unexplainable injuries
- Lost or destroyed clothing, books, electronics, or jewelry
- Frequent headaches or stomach aches, feeling sick or faking illness – trying to stay away from school
- Changes in eating habits, like suddenly skipping meals or binge eating. Kids may come home from school hungry because they did not eat lunch.
- Difficulty sleeping or frequent nightmares
- Sudden loss of friends or avoidance of social situations
- Feelings of helplessness or decreased self esteem
- Self-destructive behaviors such as running away from home, harming themselves, or talking about suicide
HOW TO PROTECT YOUR CHILD FROM BULLYING
Bullying is harmful. It should not be considered a “rite of passage” or a normal childhood activity. Bullying can be fatal – there is a strong link between bullying and suicide.So it is vitally important that parents take steps to protect your child from bullying. When adults respond quickly and consistently to bullying behavior they send the message that it is not acceptable. Research shows this can stop bullying behavior over time.
If your child is being bullied, you should report it to the school right away. If the bullying continues, “go up the chain” by reporting to the principal then to the school superintendent. If you have to, contact the local or state school board. Approaching the bully’s parents should be the school’s job, not the victim or their parents’ job. Although you are likely to feel very emotional or angry about the harm to your child, the approach to the school is most effective if you can keep your emotions in check, report the facts, and ask for help.
If there has been a threat of violence against your child, that is a crime. A threat or actual violence should trigger a call to law enforcement.
WHAT ARE YOUR LEGAL RIGHTS IF YOUR CHILD IS A VICTIM OF BULLYING
Schools are required by law to take action when bullying is happening. The school may have some responsibility even when the bullying is happening online or off campus if it affects the child’s ability to feel safe at school. There are both state and federal laws designed to protect kids. Public Justice, a leading nonprofit, runs The Bully Project which can help you understand your legal rights. For a free consultation to learn more about your rights in Oklahoma, contact Koller Trial Law today.