Protecting Your Child Against Bullying
This week, April 3-7, 2017, is National Youth Violence Prevention Week. For most parents, the thought of youth violence brings to mind the prevalence of bullying among kids today. There are few parents whose lives haven’t been touched by bullying in some way: either they have seen their children experience bullying behavior, they’ve seen their children’s friends fall victim to bullying, or they recall bullying behavior from when they were growing up themselves.
Bullying can have a devastating impact not just on a child’s learning but also on his or her physical and mental health and well-being. Because of the focus on youth violence this week, it’s a good time to look at what bullying is, how to prevent it, and how to address an active bullying situation.
What Type of Behavior Counts as Bullying?
Ohio law defines bullying as any intentional act (physical, verbal, or written) that a student exhibits toward another student more than once that causes harm (physical or mental) and is severe or persistent enough to create an intimidating or threatening educational environment. (R.C. 3313.666). It’s a broad definition, and it includes more than physical attacks.Leaving threatening notes in a student’s locker or posting abusive messages on social media websites is considered bullying in Ohio.
The School’s Role
In recent years, awareness about the problem of bullying in schools has grown, and both legislators and schools alike have taken steps to prevent it. All public school districts (including charter schools) must establish policies prohibiting bullying. They must also have:
- a procedure in place to report bullying.
- a requirement that school employees and volunteers report bullying.
- a procedure for documenting and responding to bullying incidents.
- a requirement that parents of students involved be notified and given copies of reports.
- a discipline procedure for students guilty of bullying.
- a strategy to protect a victim of bullying.
Schools also must print their policy in the student handbook and send a statement summarizing the policy to parents each year. Many school have also started incorporating the topic of bullying into school assemblies and classroom instruction.
Bullying Prevention as a Parent
As a parent, there are steps that you can take to prevent your child from being a victim of bullying. The first and best thing you can do is to talk with your child and keep those lines of communication open throughout the school year. Some specific things to discuss include:
- making sure your student understands what bullying is, so he or she can recognize it right away if it happens.
- reviewing the school’s anti-bullying policy with your child, and reinforcing the importance of speaking up if he or she experiences bullying behavior.
- building your child’s confidence through role-playing, giving your child concrete examples of how to respond to the bully by telling him or her to stop or by walking away.
- teaching your child about how to stay safe when confronted with bullying behavior, including staying in groups or staying nearby to a teacher or school volunteer.
- encouraging your child to take part in group activities or clubs to help build confidence and make healthy friendships.
Steps to Take if Your Child is Bullied
Despite the efforts of legislators, school districts, and concerned parents, bullying still happens. What can you do if you believe your child has been the victim of bullying?
- Look at your son or daughter’s student handbook and review the bullying policy carefully.
- Report the incident by calling the principal, and ask him or her to investigate. Follow up with a written summary of your conversation and send it by mail or email.
- Keep notes of your conversations with school officials and keep copies of any letters and emails.
- Check in with the principal again after a few days to make sure the school is following its policy. Ask what steps are being taken to prevent future problems for your child.
- If you don’t feel that the principal is taking your reports seriously, or if the school’s policy is not being followed appropriately, contact the superintendent or a member of the school board. Share your documentation with him or her, and discuss what you believe could be done to protect your child.
- Continue to communicate with your child, and if the bullying has not stopped, report the continued behavior.
- You may also refer to SaferSchools.ohio.gov or StopBullying.gov for more resources.
Your child has the right to a safe learning environment. With parents, lawmakers, and schools working together against bullying, students can be feel supported, empowered, and protected against bullying.
If you’ve taken all of these steps and feel your child is still a victim of continued bullying, consult local public safety officials and contact Rinehardt Law Firm at 419-LAW-2020 for a free consultation.