He climbed into my car with a swollen eye that was starting to become a vibrant blue and purple, as tears silently slipped past the cheeks of his downward turned face. Enough was enough! I left my car right in the school pick-up line and like a warrior ready for battle marched my son immediately back into the school and into the principal’s office. “Please son, tell the principal exactly what happened in line. This has to stop!”
Over that year, I watched as my outgoing, fearless, and kind 10-year-old turned into a reclusive, nervous child who lashed out emotionally at everyone close to him. We consistently noticed bruises and marks on him and asked where they came from. We received the same response each time, “I don’t know.” He began to call home from school telling the nurse he was sick and asking if we could pick him up. He started having severe stomach pains, which after extensive testing, the doctor could only attribute to nerves. Finally, one day when he came home with large bruises and cuts all over his arm it became all too much for him to handle on his own and he admitted what we suspected. He was being bullied! Despite wanting to help him, we were at a loss as to what we could really do. Although we reported it to his teacher, the bullying continued.
Sadly, my son’s experience is not an isolated one. Bullying is an epidemic infecting our world! According to statics, one-in-four students admit to being bullied. Every seven seconds a child is bullied and 85 percent of the time there is no intervention. One-in-three students will face cyberbullying. An estimated 160,000 students skip school every day for fear of being attacked or bullied. Five and a half million kids drop out of school or transfer schools every year due to a bullying situation. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for children under 16 and can often be directly attributed to bullying. Over 75 percent of school violence has been linked to harassment and bullying.
These are not just statics. These are our children, our kids at church, our kids in our neighborhood, and our future full of purpose and destiny. They are real lives, real deaths and not just news blurbs to which we repost and send our prayers to over social media. We must act immediately, but the problem seems overwhelming. Where do we begin?
STEP ONE: Be Informed
Bullying is not just being unkind to someone. Bullying is any repetitive, aggressive behavior intended on harming another person. There are several types of bullying: verbal, physical, social, psychological, and cyber bullying. We all know children sometimes argue with friends, often saying and doing things they don’t mean. The difference between childish drama and bullying is that bullying happens REPEATEDLY, with PURPOSEFUL INTENT, and is about GAINING POWER over another.
STEP TWO: Be Aware of the Signs
Every child is different, and any child can have an “off” day or week. We must look for a pattern of behavior that is not typical for the child. The most common signs that a child is being bullied include:
- Unexplained physical marks, cuts, or bruises and scrapes.
- Unexplained loss or damage of school supplies, clothing, lunches, money, favorite toys
- Changes in appetite.
- Loss of sleep or frequent nightmares.
- Frequent sick days and or frequent visits to the school nurse’s office.
- Begins bullying siblings or younger kids.
- Suddenly withdrawn, sullen, or anxious and isolates themselves.
- Waits to get home before using the bathroom.
- A sudden drop off in grades.
- Afraid to be left alone; suddenly wants an adult with them at all times and becomes clingy.
- Appears nervous or agitated when receiving a text, instant message, direct message, or has unexplained anger or depression after going on-line.
STEP THREE: Be Involved
When our son was bullied, we received a lot of well-meaning advice from others. We heard everything from “get him some better friends” to “get him some boxing lessons and teach him to fight back.” None of these suggestions were helpful. It appears they thought this was somehow my son’s problem. We must understand that bullying is never the victim’s fault!
The number one thing you can do to help is DON’T judge the child, LISTEN instead! Sometimes we think we are helping by attempting to “correct” reasons why someone might bully them, such as their quirky personality or clothing. This leaves them feeling ashamed of something that they have no real control over and often leads to them becoming silent in their suffering. Kids are uniquely and wonderfully made. There are no deserving reasons for them to be bullied. Listen to their story with compassion and instead of telling them to “stand up for themselves,” give them the tools to help them do it! Make a plan of action with your child that includes the following:
- Speak Up. Let your child know it’s okay to outright tell a bully to STOP! Tell the Bully firmly that if they don’t stop, they will be reported. Most schools have a “No Tolerance Policy.”
- Take Notes. Help your child keep a “Bully Journal.” Write down the times and places that the bullying occurred. Try to write details. Include pictures of any injures, damaged property, cyber bullying messages, etc. Keep it up to date.
- Make an Escape Plan. No matter where your child is being bullied, if you are not near, get another adult on board that your child can immediately go to as a way to escape the bullying.
- Have No Fear. If the bully refuses to stop, go directly to the principal, superintendent, youth group leader, activity leader, or adult in charge. Share your Bully Journal as proof. Hold that adult accountable to resolve the problem. Insist on a report as to the actions of consequence or, if needed, a mediation session with the bully’s parents/guardians.
- Copy, Delete, Report, Block. In the case of Cyberbullying, you must take control of your child’s accounts. Take screen shots of the comments or texts for your Bully Journal, then immediately report the offenders. Most social media sites have a place in which you can report cyberbullying. Delete all abusive comments or pictures online. Block everyone responsible. Have your child take a “media time-out” for their own protection.
- Be Bold for Safety’s Sake. If it’s a case of continued physical violence or a serious abusive threat, don’t be afraid to go to your local authorities. Be bold and protect your child before the unthinkable occurs.
- Start an Anti-Bullying Organization or Club. There are some fantastic anti-bullying programs that can not only teach kids that character and kindness count, but also act as a safe way to bring light to any bullying problems within your community. In most cases, teacher, parents, and students work together to change the atmosphere of a school.
- No Fault. Don’t let your child beat themselves up! Whatever the consequences the bully receives, remind your child, it was the bully’s choice to behave in the way they did. They must deal with the consequences of their actions. Don’t let anyone make them feel guilty for speaking up! Consequences often correct bad behavior.
- Forgive the Bully. When all is said and done, encourage your child to forgive their bully. Help them to understand that everyone has a reason why the act out. Some bully others because they don’t know how to deal with their own problems or emotions. That doesn’t excuse what they have done, but it can help your child feel some compassion toward them and offer forgiveness.
A Last Word on Love
My son’s story does not have a perfect ending. We moved from the area before any great amount of progress was made. However, the issue continued to tug at my heart and now I am currently involved with a nationwide anti-bullying program.
I recognize that we live in a sinful and often selfish world. Not everyone is going to instruct their children to “love their neighbor” or to abide by the Golden Rule. We must be pro-active by teaching our children in word and deed, to love without prejudice, be kind without preconditions, and to be courageous enough to stand up for themselves and for others. Our children don’t have to be victims to this world’s bullies! They can be the change, not just hope that things change.
Written by Amber Easton-Payne, Cleveland, Tennessee, as Printed in the February 2019 White Wing Messenger
About the Author
Amber Easton-Payne is chief operations officer for Way Beyond Measure, Inc., a national anti-bullying program. The program offers the Stand Up Stand Out Leadership Club that presents age-appropriate educational and empowerment initiatives in schools. A mother of five, Amber is also a former youth and children’s pastor. For more information visit WayBeyondMeasure.com.