By: Dallan Hunt
When I was a freshman, I stepped off the school bus and began to walk home, trying not to draw attention to myself. Before I could take ten steps, the biggest boy off the bus grabbed me by the neck and pushed me to the ground. He had a glowing smile on his face, as if he had achieved something great. He kicked dirt into my face and then pulled me up; he looked around at the other boys silently watching, and demanded one of them to do it again.
I never told anyone what happened, and for good reason, I thought. He was much bigger than I, and for some time I convinced myself that I couldn’t do anything about it. I was embarrassed and ashamed, and couldn’t tell anyone. If I did, it would only get worse. This was just something I had to put up with.
When I got home I wiped the dirt from my face. I pushed the front door open and walked in, putting on a smile as best as I could.
“How was school?” my mother asked.
“Oh, fine,” I replied, in the only way I thought appropriate.
Not only was I being bullied, but I was lying too. School was not what I imagined it to be.
The reality of bullying in school and how to help your child
As parents, often we think about school as a place for learning new things, getting good grades and becoming smarter. School is a place for young people to grow up and become the people of the future. As glorious as those aspirations are, threats and intimidation can quickly turn school, instead, into a place of fear. Bullying is a serious problem, and not addressing it can send our children down a painful path. Bullying is also a difficult problem, but, fortunately, the solution starts with a simple conversation–but that’s also the first challenge.
Getting kids to talk about bullying is difficult. I am proof. Research has shown that nearly 65% of victims of bullying do not report it to teachers or school officials , and there are a whole host of reasons why.
For one, it can be humiliating for a child to admit to their parents and their peers that they can’t solve the problem themselves. Consequently, speaking up may be considered a weakness, rather than a strength, with a child potentially being labeled a “snitch” or “tattle-tale” as a form of public shame. And when the desire to fit in is strong, being singled out like this can be a significant detriment.
Believe it or not, sometimes the expectation for kids to be tough and solve their own problems can even stem from parents themselves. One way to teach kids about asking for help is for parents to model this behavior themselves. Admit when you can’t solve a problem and show what asking for help looks like. Not only is this skill helpful with bullying, but also with life in general.
The other major fear of speaking up is that there will be retaliation and the bullying will only get worse. When the bullying is bad enough, imagining anything worse can be simply unbearable. As a result, some children may accept and even normalize the bullying.
Overall, these are just two reasons why children don’t speak up, but there are more . The point to remember is there can be a lot working against an open and honest conversation about bullying, and understanding this culture of silence can help you better broach this sensitive topic with your child.
How to have a conversation about bullying
One way to mitigate the apprehension of talking about bullying is to start talking about it before it even becomes a problem. Starting at a young age can create a safe place to openly discuss it while establishing healthy expectations around bullying.
A good starting point is to discuss what bullying actually is, as it comes in different forms.
- Verbal bullying, like name calling
- Social bullying, like public shaming
- Physical bullying, like shoving
- Cyber bullying, like posting insults online
Sometimes it is difficult for kids to tell, so educating them will help them identify bullying and then be better equipped to deal with it. Plus, not only is getting educated on bullying empowering, but these conversations can also help to establish the expectation that bullying is an open topic for discussion.
Tip: To re-enforce this transparency, have regular follow-up talks as well.
When your child gets home from school, ask questions like, “So, did you see anyone being bullied today?” Talk specifically about bullying. By bringing up the distinct topic of bullying, this emphasizes that bullying, specifically, is important and needs to be talked about. It also helps to normalize bullying as a talking point.
You can then follow up with, “And what do we do if anyone is being bullied?”
“We tell someone to get help.”
These statements are by intention general, and for two main reasons:
- First, they recognize that no one deserves to be bullied, which indirectly tells your child that they shouldn’t be bullied either.
- Second, it shows concern for bullying without casting a nagging shadow by focusing on just your child. By not nagging, it helps to avoid adding extra pressure, especially for a child who may already be under pressure if they are being bullied.
Overall, once kids acknowledge the reality and problem of bullying, it legitimizes the very important question, “So, what can we do about it?”
What to do if your child is being bullied
It is important for you and your child to know what steps to take when bullying occurs, and if you can’t figure it out yourself, remember that you never have to. Empower yourself and your child by connecting to the bigger community at your child’s school. It is in everyone’s interest to create a safe place for children, so don’t feel you have to tackle bullying alone.
Here are a few options:
1. Do your own research on bullying, as there are many resources online. To start …
- Check out KidsHealth’s article: Helping Kids Deal With Bullies.
- Get UNICEF’s tips for how to talk to your children about bullying.
- If you live in Canada, BullyingCanada, an antibullying charity, has a wealth of information and resources!
2. Arrange a meeting to have you and your child talk with school counselors, who will have valuable information about bullying
3. Advocate for school events and initiatives, like fundraising events for antibullying, or inviting speakers to come to your school, to inspire and educate parents and children on how to stop bullying.
These suggestions all lend themselves to creating more open discussions. And while there is great value in talking about bullying through words, words are not the only way.
Day of Pink & Anti-Bullying Days
A group of teenagers, from a small town in Nova Scotia, sent a big message to the world by organizing an anti-bullying protest at their school. For years they have been teaching us that we can talk about bullying not just through words, but also actions through International Day of Pink.
“David Shepherd, Travis Price and their teenage friends organized a high-school protest to wear pink in sympathy with a … boy who was being bullied [for wearing a pink shirt]…[They] took a stand against bullying when they protested against the harassment of a new … student by distributing pink T-shirts to all the boys in their school. As they stood in the foyer handing out the shirts, the bullied boy walked in. His face spoke volumes. ‘It looked like a huge weight was lifted off his shoulders,’ Mr. Price recalled. The bullies were never heard from again.” — Globe & Mail 
These teenagers showed us that stopping bullying is important not just to people who are being bullied, but to those at our schools, in our towns and everyone around the globe. It is actions like these that inspire International Day of Pink and build a sense of community. Actions like these help victims of bullying realize they don’t have to suffer in silence and that asking for help strengthens us—it does not weaken us.
Of course, supporting Pink Shirt Day is one action to stand up against bullying, but there are many!
Mark your calendar.
- Day of Pink occurs during the second of April.
- In the United States, the second Wednesday of October is Anti-Bullying Day.
- In Canada, the last Wednesday in February is Anti-Bullying Day.
Get informed about your school’s anti-bullying plan. Reach out to your child’s school and find out what their bullying prevention plan is. Find out what the expectations are, and what options children who encounter bullying have–both for themselves and others.
Find out when local anti-bullying and events are. Many schools and community centers have initiatives and events that relate to bullying. For example, there could be fun runs, 5ks, talks or information sessions.
Whatever actions you take, remember to include your child wherever possible, to build a sense of ownership as you strive to develop a strong sense of awareness and community.
Knowledge is key to handling and ending bullying
Overall, it is important for parents and children to become educated about bullying. Identifying what bullying is and understanding how to deal with it, will allow you and your child to have more open and honest discussions about it. Creating a safe place where children can discuss bullying is critical.
In addition to words, actions are important as well. The right actions can help to create a sense of community and show everyone that their safety is important, and that there is no need to suffer in silence.
Whatever steps you take to combat bullying, remember not to do it alone. Reach out to your child’s school or other anti-bullying organizations that can provide valuable resources. We are all empowered when we talk about bullying, through both words and actions, creating a safer place where we all want to live.
 Statistics on reporting of bullying: http://www.safeschools.info/bullying-prevention/bullying-prevention-news/73-study-finds-most-bullying-not-reported