October is National Bullying Prevention Month. As an advocate for exceptional students I know the ways that exceptional children are often singled out by others. I frequently work with families who are coping with unfair circumstances in schools, including social struggles with peers and bullying. Bullying behavior is not the consequence of a child’s difference from others or even simply the bad behavior of a bully. The epidemic of bullying that America is experiencing is something that each of us can address and seek to stem. Our children are coping with a harsher educational environment as time goes on, but one that each parent, teacher, school administrator, or staff person can help to eradicate with their actions.
One effort at bringing attention to the damage bullies can cause is The Bully Project, a character-driven documentary following 5 kids and families over the course of a school year to explore the various aspects of the bullying crisis in our country. Two of the families lost children to suicide; one features a mother waiting to learn the outcome of her 14-year-old daughter who brought a gun onto her school bus. It is billed as “an intimate glimpse into homes, classrooms, cafeterias and principals’ offices…offer[ing] insight into the often cruel world of the lives of bullied children. As teachers, administrators, kids and parents struggle to find answers, The Bully Project examines the dire consequences of bullying through the testimony of strong and courageous youth. Through the power of their stories, the film aims to be a catalyst for change in the way we deal with bullying as parents, teachers, children and society as a whole.” This is not just a film but a call to action: to speak out and speak up when you see bullying occuring or suspect someone is being bullied.
“There is a small but growing amount of research literature on bullying among children with disabilities and special needs. This research indicates that these children may be at particular risk of being bullied by their peers. Of course children with disabilities may in fact be engaged in bullying another, however, research tells us that more often, children with disabilities or medical needs are victims of bullying.” Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates.
As parents, it is important that we remain informed about our children’s day-to-day experiences at school. If we are not aware of what is happening, we cannot hope to support the children suffering under these conditions. Need to know what to look for? Here is a helpful definition of bullying from COPAA:
Five Characteristics of Bullying (Marini, Fairbairn & Zuber,2001):
1. Power differential – Bullies demonstrate greater physical strength, higher cognitive abilities, or knowledge of particular psychological vulnerabilities.
2. Repeated – Acts of bullying are rarely isolated. Repetition distinguishes bullying and has a devastating impact. The anticipation and expectation of future abuse inflicts great harm on victims.
3. Intent to harm – Bullies act purposefully, seeking to injure their peers physically and/or psychologically.
4. Creation of anxiety, intimidation and fear – Bullying victims live with constant fear and a feeling of powerlessness.
5. Secretiveness – Bullies go to considerable lengths to keep their acts hidden from parents and teachers.
It is important that anyone who notices this kind of behavior reports it to teachers and school administrators immediately. Much of the problem with bullying is that victims feel unable to stand up for themselves and also afraid to report the treatment they are enduring. An immediate report to a teacher or principal can prevent further bullying.
Bullying can be as complicated as the individual children involved in the situation. Below I have included some resources that may be useful to parents facing this situation or wanting to learn more about the kinds of issues facing school-aged children. It is my hope that with education of this kind available and the efforts of concerned parents and school staff, bullying can be decreased and even removed from our children’s educational experience.
National Bullying Prevention Month:
The Bully Project
11 Facts About Bullying:
How to Strengthen Your School’s Bullying Policy:
National PTA Bullying site:
Prevent Your Child From Becoming a Bully:
What You Can Do:
Community Based Prevention:
School Bullying: What You Haven’t Heard:
Why You Shouldn’t “Just Walk Away”:
My Kid Would Never Bully:
My Daughter is Already a Follower:
New Friends v. Old Friends:
Melissa Bilash is a dedicated education advocate and the 2010 Mom Congress Delegate from Pennsylvania.This piece was originally posted on October 10th, 2011 on her Advocay & Consulting for Education website.