Bullying at School: What To Do About It?

Although we know that bullying is common in schools, many teenagers however, will not let on that they are being bullied at school.

Adolescents may not want to say that they are being bullied because:

  • they don’t want to look or sound weak or “pathetic”,
  • they don’t want the parents to go to the school and somehow embarrass them,
  • they don’t want the teachers to know that they can’t handle it,
  • they are afraid of any further retributions if the bully finds out,
  • they don’t want to be seen as a “dobber” getting others into trouble.

Although the adolescent may not tell you initially that he or she is being bullied, typically, there are some signs……such as the following:

  • becoming short-tempered, intolerant, with perhaps some outbursts
  • becoming teary, withdrawn or depressed
  • obvious panic or anxiety about going to school
  • a drop off in grades or a hint of school refusal
  • asking for extra pocket money or maybe stealing (to buy off the bully or placate the bully somehow)
  • continual stomach “upsets” or headaches that means that they need to stay home or frequent visits to the school sick room or being sent home because they are unwell
  • wanting the parent to drop them off at the school gate rather than take the bus or walk or ride a bike
  • trouble sleeping at night and awakening often through the night or difficulty dropping off to sleep

Clearly, the bullying has to stop.  The impact on self-esteem can be very severe and damaging – at times, permanent.

The adolescent has to face it with strong support from his or her family and school.  If the issue is raised at home, in whatever form, then the parents must do all they can to support and encourage their offspring.  The issue has to be raised at school and to this end, the parent has to find a compassionate, caring teacher who knows what to do.

Definitely, there should be no exposure of the victim.  I have had well-intentioned teachers who have thought that they were doing the right thing by mediating and bringing both bully and victim together.  It has then been then left up to me to try to redeem the situation where the bully’s power has now increased as he knows that his victim has been worried, anxious, scared and the victim is now terrified!

If the supportive teacher, counsellor or school chaplain can be found, then, the story of the bullying needs to be told in confidence.  The bully needs to be brought in for a serious discussion and the parents or family of the bully involved.  If the bullying continues, then the bully ought to be removed from the school.

If help is not forthcoming from the school, the adolescent who is being victimized needs to leave and find another school to attend.

“He bullied, soothed and cajoled.  In fact, he’s awfully good at what he does, but how one wishes that he didn’t work quite so hard doing it.” 

(John Corry; 1666-1726, Irish Politician)

What Do You Do If Your Child Has Been Bullied?

  • Perhaps prompt with questions like: “Is there any way I wonder that you could get him/her to stop bullying you?” or “What might happen if you pretended you didn’t hear them?” or “What would they do if you just walked away?”
  • Ask, don’t tell – ask your child, “What do you think should happen now?”
  • Don’t judge & keep calm – be supportive and understanding
  • Listen – really listen
  • If your child says “Don’t tell the teacher” – Ask gently why not – What is their fear?
  • If it’s OK to talk to the teacher, do so discretely – perhaps find out beforehand how the teacher might be expected to handle it
  • If you are not happy with the teacher’s response – be prepared to talk to the Principal about it – if you are not happy with the school’s response, you may need to consider leaving altogether
  • Check how your child is going – don’t nag or always be asking – and watch for any tell-tale signs of continuing distress (eg. stomach aches, not wanting to go to school etc)

What do you do about girls at school who try a power play by deliberately excluding your daughter from the group?

In a sense, this kind of ostracism is also a form of bullying.

Typically, in my experience, the girls are more subtle about their bullying and will do so in the form of gossip, teasing, and being one-up in relation to who is wearing the designer clothes, who went on the most exotic or expensive holiday over the Easter period as well as excluding others from the group.

In a sense, this is emotional or psychological bullying and can often be more damaging and more destructive than the physical bullying such as hitting, pushing, bumping that occurs.

In short, it is important to give the victim some skills to cope with the other more powerful girls.  For example, if they tease or exclude or play the “I’m better than you” game, then the adolescent has two strategies that she could implement.

For example, see the flow chart below.

Of course, it needs to be said quite plainly that to the very first put-down by the bully (e.g. “You’re fat!”), the victim could also respond and come back with something that is slightly aggressive such as “Yeah right!” or “Stuff Off!” (or words to that effect).

The bully picks on the most vulnerable or the ‘weakest’ and if by some chance, the victim can muster enough courage to tell the bully where to get off when he or she is first picked on, this is usually sufficient to mean that the bully will go and find another culprit elsewhere.

“Bullies are always cowards at heart and may be credited with a pretty safe instinct in scenting their prey.”

(Anna Julia Cooper; 1858-1964, US Teacher & Writer)