According to statistics 15% of all students who don’t show up for classes say the reason is that they are afraid of being bullied at school. Alexandra Penn, founder of the organization Champions against Bullying, says that even though the schools are paying more attention to the problem after the spate of recent adolescent suicides, it is growing. She believes bullying is fueled by silence and denial. Often people and kids who see what is happening just ignore it, not wanting to get involved.
Usually the children who are bullied are different in some way. They may be obese, gay, or disabled, and are often the shyer, nonassertive kids. In my practice I saw the increase clearly as parents both went to work and as teachers became more afraid they would be reported or lose their job for interfering or harshly reprimanding the offenders. Ultimately there is no one there at this point to protect the vulnerable child. And if the child reports what happened s/he is frightened of being ostracized, beaten, or bullied more. And now, with cyberbullying, the problem is getting much worse.
Until recently people have overlooked the behavior as a right of passage, or given some other excuse, but as one of my 13 year old male clients who was sent to me for truancy told me. “Every time I walk to school, I am literally scared for my life. They have threatened me with knives and I know they would kill me.” But he was terrified to tell. He told me he would hide under the overpass and shake, sometimes for hours. “Nobody likes me,” he said, “because I am small and I have asthma. I don’t want to live anymore.” When he came to me he had nightmares and could not sleep, terrified THEY would get him. He had PTSD. Ultimately his parents took charge and removed him from the school and sent him to a private school. The problem is that most parents don’t have the money or the energy after a long day of work to take charge.
1. Parents and schools, it is essential that you take charge of the situation. YOU are the adults. The bullied and the bullys are children and they will be harmed both physically and emotionally if you don’t.
2. Children and even adolescents must have supervision by an older adult. Several studies have shown that child and adolescent offenses occur when they are unsupervised.
3. Parents talk to your child about bullying and reassure them they can talk to you. But then you must be prepared with a plan to carry through.
4. Teachers, address the situation in your classes and build a network of students to make sure these vulnerable children will be protected by the rest of the class.